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A Novel. A Novella and Four Stories 

By the same author 

Bedford Forrest and His Critter Company 
The Long Night 
At the Moons Inn 
A Name for Evil 
The Velvet Horn 

A ndrew 



me dotvettg obotensky 

Copyright 1935, 1936, 1941, 1942, 1945, 1947 by Andrew Lytle 
© 1958 by Andrew Lytle 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 58-12577 

All Rights Reserved under Pan-American and International 
Copyright Conventions. Published in New York by Mc- 
Dowell, Obolensky Inc. and in the Dominion of Canada by 
George J. McLeod Limited, Toronto. 

First Printing 

Acknowledgment is here made to the following publications, 
in which some of the material in this volume first appeared: 
The Kenyon Review, "Alchemy"; The Sewanee Review, 
"The Mahogany Frame" (then entitled "The Guide"); The 
Southern Review, "Jericho, Jericho, Jericho"; The Virginia 
Quarterly Review, "Mr. MacGregor." 

Manufactured in the United States of America by The Had- 
don Craftsmen, Scranton, Pennsylvania. 

Designed by Alfred Manso. 

To Allen 6" Caroline Tate 






four stories 

jericho, jericho, jericho 3 

the mahogany frame 21 

mr. macgregor 53 

ortiz's mass 6T 

a novella a novel 

alchemy 103 a name for evil 1G7 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 


Whenever a writer talks about a story or a novel he has done, 
he is not speaking in his true voice. That voice has already 
been heard in the rendition of the action, and once done 
the covers of the book enclose it. It is no longer the malleable 
thing he worked with; it is set to its form, beyond further 
help or damage from him. If he persists in talking about it, 
instead of leaving it alone to make its effect, it is generally 
by way of a paraphrase or an apology. It's why we tend to skip 
the passages on the historians and the man of destiny in 
War and Peace. Tolstoy is not then speaking as the artist he 
is; he is using the voice of a Russian theorizing about a seg- 
ment of Russian history. This is all the more restricted in 

x : foreword 

its appeal, because Tolstoy has already put the man of destiny 
in the book acting out concretely his theory, and thus negating 
it as theory, since he has brought Napoleon alive. No abstrac- 
tion can stand before Prince Andrew lying under the blue 
sky, thinking he is dying, and looking up to see in the flesh 
his former idol. What he sees in this moment of truth an- 
nihilates the argumentative assertions of the essays. 

It should be obvious that polemics is one discipline and 
fiction another. If you are going to preach, get into the pulpit; 
if you want to bring about political reforms, run for office; 
social reforms, behave yourself and mind your manners. The 
professions appear in a novel for technical purposes. A 
preacher may be needed to save a Active, not an actual, soul, 
just as a bore may be put there to bore some other character; 
but the skilled writer will not bore you with a man of total 
recall any more than his preacher will save you your soul. 
Sometimes, though, the sense of damnation in a book may be 
grounds for spiritual review, as Dickens's Bleak House is said 
to have set about the reforms in the Courts of Chancery. 
Such is residual, however, not the essential intention of the 
writer towards his reader. When a novel obviously makes 
an appeal other than its proper aesthetic one, you may be 
sure it has been written with the left hand. 

This intention of the writer towards his hypothetical 
reader involves many delicate and insoluble matters. Ideally 
the artist creates his reader as well as the book, establishing 
in his mind that perfect communion of sympathy and under- 
standing which, unfortunately, remains ideal. There are no 
limits to hope, but there are limits to the artifice; and these 
are his main concern. Granted that an art is of greater truth 
than the accidental nature of human affairs which is its 
source, the artist should never forget how precarious are the 

foreword : xi 

grounds of attention he must ask for. The most trivial inter- 
ference from the actual affairs of life is always a threat. A 
child falling down the stairs and screaming bloody murder 
will bring a mother from the very death of Hamlet. This 
very frailty puts an obligation upon the serious reader; he 
should bring to a book no preconception which will prevent 
him from following in all its levels the action. I am taking for 
granted that the story has found its formal expression. After 
distinguishing between the simple art of narrative and the 
comprehensive art of fiction, Lubbock says the critical reader 
becomes an artist, too. He must recreate what has been done, 
a greater reward always than some sensational impression of 
it. The pleasure of illusion is small beside the pleasure of 
creation, and knowledge better than simple entertainment. 

The lack of a critical nomenclature commonly accepted 
and practiced certainly does not help reading. We hear too 
often the term "prose fiction," which seems to make of it a 
branch of rational discourse and not its true self, an art in 
its own right, with its own laws and conventions by means 
of which it enters the large field of the creative imagination 
common to all the arts. In academic circles, but not always 
and not only there, this lack of the proper critical tools fosters 
the habit of reducing a book or story to its theme or idea, 
which is to say to an abstraction. This does violence to its 
singular aesthetic appeal, that illusion of an action imitating 
men and women caught in some one of the human predica- 
ments forever repeating themselves. The meaning in fiction 
should always be received actively, in the structural rela- 
tionships between the parts. Reception is crucial; the reader 
must be moved affectively, so that his insight will comprise 
the fullest meaning which lies before him. 

There is another approach which misses the mark. It is 

xii : foreword 

older than fiction, the game of discovering sources and in- 
fluences, which is all very well up to a point. Too much is 
made of these influences, however, when they pretend to 
disclose the secrets of the creative act. There are only two 
ways to learn anything, by actual experience and imitation. 
If you are a writer, you partly learn by reading other writers. 
But the moment comes when, to quote indirectly T. S. Eliot, 
you steal instead of borrow; that is, you make it your own. 
At this moment you pass from apprenticeship to the begin- 
ning of mastery. Henry James, as we know, never listened to 
the end of a story. He wanted from it only what w r ould set 
his own skill to working. Besides, to hear it all would have 
brought him up against a false sense of the history of it, 
false because all the facts would seem to be but could not 
actually be present in the report at second hand. He could 
not know another's mind, but he could take the risk of his 
own imagination. It is just this about sources and influences; 
the scholar can know them only in their raw condition, not 
how the imagination used them. 

One of the influences on "Jericho, Jericho, Jericho" was 
The Time of Man by Elizabeth Maddox Roberts. I finished 
her book and, in the fullness of the catharsis it had given me, 
sat right down and in less than two minutes wrote the first 
page. I remember very clearly the feeling that her rhythm 
had set my own to going. After writing this one page, I set 
it aside for four years, because I was not sure whether I was 
beginning a novel or a story. I might have set it aside for- 
ever, if the editors of the Southern Review had not asked 
me for a story. Or in the fullness of time I might have gone 
back and turned it into a novel. All kinds of accidents play 
their part, but in the end the writer has only one subject, and 
he spends his life discovering how to unfold it. And when 
it lies all before him, he is done for. 

foreword : xiii 

To put such store by influences, then, is to make a basic 
mistake about the nature of an art; it is to reduce it to a 
rational act. This attitude also falsifies the thing made by 
confusing what is unique to it, the artist's own way of seeing 
and doing, with the common grounds of experience any 
artist of necessity must draw upon. This common ground is 
the repetitive involvement with himself and his fellows 
which is man's affliction and his delight, the archetypal 
experience which forever recurs within the human scene. 
For example, the loss of innocence or the initiation of youth 
into manhood is an archetypal experience. The young Spar- 
tan who did not falter, as the fox was chewing his bowels, 
discloses his way of undergoing what every youth suffers at 
a certain time of life. But the young men of differing so- 
cieties will respond in various ways. Unlike Sparta we do 
not formally instruct our young men. What there is of it is 
private and accidental. This lack of ritual limited, at the 
very start, the archetypal conflict in "The Mahogany Frame."* 
The boy's initiation happens "by accident," through the 
ritual of hunting, itself debased; and the change in him 
which comes at the end in a shock of illumination is the 
measure of how he achieves maturity without formal guid- 
ance. The way it came out was not the way I saw it when 
I began it. I began with the wrong enveloping action and 
had to lay it aside, again curiously enough for four years. 
When a neighbor, Sinclair Buntin, invited me to go on a 
duck hunt, I accepted and returned not only with duck but 
how to do the story. Anything, a mood, an incident, a char- 
acter, an idea, can set you going; but the end must be, not 
any story but the one story which will deliver the meaning. 
The process is the advancing discovery, always controlled, 

* The story was originally called "The Guide." Mr. Allen Tate suggested 
"The Mahogany Frame," which now seems to me much better. 

xiv : foreword 

of the hidden meaning. Michelangelo spoke of releasing the 
image in the stone. Material, any material, produces a kinetic 
change in the psyche of the artist. The subject matter is never 
inert, a thing merely to be observed and used. An interaction 
takes place between the writer and what moves him to write. 
Any kind of reading which ignores this is committing a kind 
of aesthetic crime, by taking away from the author what is 
rightly his. 

Fiction is an action then, and an action which tells the 
only story which makes of the form and subject a single whole. 
This is the first limitation which the writer as artist con- 
fronts. So conscious was Flaubert of this wholeness that when 
he was asked to take away a line in A Simple Heart he pro- 
tested that to do so would cause the structure to fall apart. 
The action must have a beginning, a middle, and an end; 
and the end is in the beginning, as the plant is organically 
found in the seed. An art is a craft confronting the mystery 
of the imagination and an even more private impulse; so 
the artist warily but persistently tries to discover the proper 
environment for its singular growth. It becomes apparent 
then that there is not one action, but two: the action proper, 
which is the conflict, and the enveloping action, sometimes 
miscalled background (a borrowing from painting); mis- 
called because background implies a static condition. Since 
fiction is an action, nothing should be left inert. The two 
actions take place simultaneously in fiction as they do in 
life, just as a man must be made convincing as man before 
he can become an individual man. Let us say that it is his 
masculinity which more nearly represents the enveloping 
action, and his unique response to a conflict the action proper. 
However, this is not quite adequate. The enveloping action 
is that universal quality, some constant, forever true aspect of 

foreword : xv 

experience; the action proper its concrete showing; or the 
action proper may be the very obverse and so show it by 
contradiction or contrast. 

The action has two main parts: the pictorial or panoramic 
summary and the scene. That's all it is, reduced to its basic 
structural components and controlled by a point of view. Of 
course, such does not describe the conscious or intuitive 
arrangement of these two kinds of effects, or the special atten- 
tion to the use of the five senses to evoke the illusion of flesh. 
No matter how well you write in fiction, or what profound 
meaning you feel suffuses the action, unless you can imitate 
men and women caught in some one of the tensions we all 
know, you fail. And it is by means of the senses, more than 
anything else, that the word in fiction delivers the imme- 
diate sense of life. It is by and through them that we receive 
the world, know we are alive; they are the avenues, the 
nervous cords, which unite the physical and spiritual parts 
of being. They are the invisible, in a way, servile aids upon 
which the more crucial matters depend, and without which 
the archetypes would hover in the distance of ideal concepts. 
At this point the artist discovers a restraint as conventional 
as blank verse. And this is location. People do not live in a 
vacuum. They live somewhere. Mention of this has already 
been made, but too much emphasis cannot be given to the 
varying artificial distinctions of a culture's polity through 
which the archetype repeats itself. The natural man is an 
abstraction. He has never been seen, but what is natural to 
men always shows itself shaped by the manners and mores, 
the institutional restraints, of a given time and place. Under- 
neath, as the impulse to action, is the degree of strength or 
weakness of religious vision; for without belief there would 
be no coherent incentive to any kind of performance, good 

xvi : foreword 

or bad. To say this would once have been a platitude; it is 
no longer. 

We used to have hopes, and there are occasional echoes 
now, of somebody writing the great American novel, as if 
it could be some agglomerate concretion of the American 
spirit. This is a naive expectation, which will become clear 
when it is asked, Did Tolstoy or Dostoevsky write the great 
Russian novel? Or even here at home, which is the great 
American novel, Moby Dick or The Ambassadors. They are 
both great and both American certainly, and yet how they 
differ in style and meaning, as they differ in location: New 
England confronted by Paris, New England confronted by 
the sea. From the beginning the cultural, certainly the 
political, stresses have in this country been local and sec- 
tional. Whatever novels we have, good or bad, will show this, 
no matter how disguised the sectional attitude. The very 
assumption that there can be a melting pot is an unrealistic 
belief, all the more for the pretense that it is universally 
American. This is not to say that the great divisions of this 
country do not have in common something aside from their 
local awareness of themselves; or even that the sectional 
differences can be so marked as in older cultures, let us say 
Normandy and Provence. But the diversity of difference goes 
beyond political attitudes; it is even found within the sections 
themselves; and certainly as the sections are changed by 
historic accident: New England before the War of 1812 and 
New England now. What there is in common we might call 
the diminished vision of the Christian inheritance. Liberty 
and freedom as we understand the words, and that under- 
standing is growing vaguer and more confused, are secular 
interpretations of a more complete Christian polity now lost 
to us. The westward movement of Europeans, beginning with 

foreword : xvii 

Columbus, not only shattered the narrow physical boundaries 
of Christendom but, like all extension, weakened it by re- 
ducing a union composite of spiritual and temporal parts 
to the predominance of material ends. With us it is called 
pioneering, and every part of the country was involved in 
it; but even in this common inheritance we find distinct local 
differences. The New England theocratic shift of the Mor- 
mons was unlike the Southern cattleman's gradual advance 
from a semi-pastoral stage to an agrarian society. And there 
were those individuals, the hunters, who went alone or in 
small parties, following an even more ancient impulse. The 
general is always defined by the particular; so, even what 
we share together cannot escape expression in terms of local 
history and culture. 

Of the South, and the South is a more complex term than 
is generally recognized, too much is made of ethnic com- 
plications as its distinguishing feature, although of course 
this can in no way be ignored. But it is the family which 
best describes the nature of this society. And by family I 
mean the total sense of it, the large "connections of kin" 
amplifying the individual unit. There are the geographic 
limits which allowed the family in this larger meaning (it 
was the community) to spread itself in a mild climate and 
over alluvial soils to give to the institution its predominance 
as not just one but the institution of Southern life. In New 
England, at least the coastal areas, there was always the sea 
to intervene, holding up a distant image and not the familiar, 
seasonal one such as land allows. Of course there was a sea- 
board in the South and farms in New England, but the 
county and township represented the difference. Both the 
sea and land are feminine images, but the sea takes only 
men; and so the communion between husband and wife was 

xviii : foreword 

interrupted and for long periods of time. Relate this sea- 
faring to the theocratic oligarchies, and we discover the 
cultural forms acting upon man's relation to woman, which 
at one time made witches. What is a woman deprived but a 
witch, especially under the discipline of a Puritan distortion 
of the senses. 

Man's attitude to woman is the foundation of society, 
under God. In the South, because of the prevailing sense 
of the family, the matriarch becomes the defining image. 
The earlier insistence on purity, an ideal not always a fact, 
was not chivalric romanticism but a matter of family in- 
tegrity, with the very practical aim of keeping the blood 
lines sure and the inheritance meaningful. Before machinery 
was made which lessened the need for the whole family to 
do its part on the farm, husband, wife, children, cousins, 
dependents, servants all served the land and were kept by it, 
according to their various demands and capacities. The parts 
of the family made a whole by their diversity. Before the 
automobile destroyed the country communities (the Civil 
War did not) people lived fairly close together without 
losing their privacy or their family distinctions. The radius 
of visiting and trading and marrying was generally not more 
than seven miles, but seven miles at a walk or even in a buggy 
takes time. You just didn't drop in for a chat. You spent the 
day at least. And the railroads did not disrupt these com- 
munities; they merely connected them. Conversation reached 
a high art, and it generally talked about what most interested 
itself, and this was the endless complications within the family 
and what gossip or rumor hinted at in the neighbors. Every 
human possibility was involved, including politics, but the 
blood lines were the measure of behavior. There was never 
any doubt about the argument between environment and 

foreword : xix 

heredity. Environment was what heredity inherited. At a 
family gathering, when people were not working but cele- 
brating, there would always be one voice more capable than 
another of dominating the conversation. It was a kind of 
bardic voice. This opened my eyes to a technical device 
about the point of view, what might be called the Hovering 
Bard. Everybody in a country community knows something 
about a happening; but nobody knows it all. The bard, by 
hovering above the action, to see it all, collects the segments. 
In the end, in the way he fits the parts together, the one story 
will finally get told. 

This is not to say that the subject of Southern fiction is 
limited to what goes on within the family circle, or even that 
the family is always the enveloping action. But this larger 
sense of it must always be taken into account. It is the 
structure through which the cultural image, with its tem- 
poral and spiritual rituals, complicates the human drama, 
receives and modifies by its conventions the archetypal hap- 
penings which forever recur between birth and death. There 
are societies where the family as institution is subordinated 
to some abstract idea of the state. At one time such was 
Sparta, as now it is with Russia or the welfare state anywhere. 
But in the great days of Greek drama what would the drama- 
tists have done without the House of Atreus? Or would we 
have had the fall of Troy, if Paris had merely run away 
with one of Citizen Menelaus's women? Or the classical idea 
of Fate, which both men and gods had to reckon with, how 
that would have been diminished if a tyranny, based on 
abstract economics, had held the total meaning of life? There 
would have been no Sophocles or Aeschylus; there might have 
been some kind of Euripides. There certainly would have 
been no Homer. 

xx : foreword 

To repeat a platitude, we are caught between two con- 
flicting world views which operate within and without our 
society, but most acutely in the South, because the South has 
been the losing cause. The prevailing Faustian view, to bor- 
row from Spengler, has until recently seemed invincible. 
Relying entirely on the material ends as the only proper 
reward for action (the delusion that man can know the 
final secrets of matter), it defines itself as laissez faire in 
economics (the shift from the individual to the state does 
not alter this), faction in politics, social welfare in religion, 
relativism in history, pragmatism in philosophy. The older 
belief in The City of God as the end of the drama has per- 
sisted, if defensively, in the South. But it is the fractured 
view of this Christian drama, the loss of its inner meaning, 
which has confused Southern institutions and required of 
the family more meaning than it can sustain. Yet this very 
situation focuses the artist's approach to his material. If he 
tries to free himself from it, he can only do so by betrayal, 
which is not infrequent. 


The University of Florida 

August 15, 1958 


jericho, jericho, jericho 


hours or months. She could not reckon; she could only feel 
the steady silence of time. She had been Joshua and made it 
swing suspended in her room. Forever she had floated above 
the counterpane; between the tester and the counterpane 
she had floated until her hand, long and bony, its speckled 
dried skin drawing away from the bulging blue veins, had 
reached and drawn her body under the covers. And now she 
was resting, clear-headed and quiet, her thoughts clicking 
like a new-greased mower. All creation could not make her 
lift her thumb or cross it over her finger. She looked at the 
bed, the bed her mother had died in, the bed her children 
had been born in, her marriage bed, the bed the General 

4 : jericho, jericho, jericho 

had drenched with his blood. Here it stood where it had 
stood for seventy years, square and firm on the floor, wide 
enough for three people to lie comfortable in, if they didn't 
sleep restless; but not wide enough for her nor long enough 
when her conscience scorched the cool wrinkles in the sheets. 
The two footposts, octagonal-shaped and mounted by carved 
pieces that looked like absurd flowers, stood up to comfort 
her when the world began to crumble. Her eyes followed 
down the posts and along the basket-quilt. She had made it 
before her marriage to the General, only he wasn't a general 
then. He was a slight, tall young man with a rolling mustache 
and perfume in his hair. A many a time she had seen her 
young love's locks dripping with scented oil, down upon his 
collar . . . She had cut the squares for the baskets in January, 
and for stuffing had used the letters of old lovers, fragments 
of passion cut to warm her of a winter's night. The General 
would have his fun. Miss Kate, I didn't sleep well last night. 
I heard Sam Buchanan make love to you out of that farthest 
basket. If I hear him again, I mean to toss this piece of quilt 
in the fire. Then he would chuckle in his round, soft voice; 
reach under the covers and pull her over to his side of the 
bed. On a cold and frosting night he would sleep with his nose 
against her neck. His nose was so quick to turn cold, he said, 
and her neck was so warm. Sometimes her hair, the loose 
unruly strands at the nape, would tickle his nostrils and he 
would wake up with a sneeze. This had been so long ago, 
and there had been so many years of trouble and worry. Her 
eyes, as apart from her as the mirror on the bureau, rested 
upon the half-tester, upon the enormous button that caught 
the rose-colored canopy and shot its folds out like the rays 
of the morning sun. She could not see but she could feel the 
heavy cluster of mahogany grapes that tumbled from the 

jericho, jericho, jericho : 5 

center of the headboard — out of its vines curling down the 
sides it tumbled. How much longer would these never-picked 
grapes hang above her head? How much longer would she, 
rather, hang to the vine of this world, she who lay beneath 
as dry as any raisin. Then she remembered. She looked at the 
blinds. They were closed. 

"You, Ants, where's my stick? I'm a great mind to break 
it over your trifling back." 

"Awake? What a nice long nap you've had," said Doctor 

"The boy? Where's my grandson? Has he come?" 

"I'll say he's come. What do you mean taking to your bed 
like this? Do you realize, beautiful lady, that this is the first 
time I ever saw you in bed in my whole life? I believe you've 
taken to bed on purpose. I don't believe you want to see me." 

"Go long, boy, with your foolishness." 

That's all she could say, and she blushed as she said it — 
she blushing at the words of a snip of a boy, whom she had 
diapered a hundred times and had washed as he stood before 
the fire in the round tin tub, his little back swayed and his 
little belly sticking out in front, rosy from the scrubbing he 
had gotten. Mammy, what for I've got a hole in my stummick; 
what for, Mammy? Now he was sitting on the edge of the 
bed calling her beautiful lady, an old hag like her, beautiful 
lady. A good-looker the girls would call him, with his bold, 
careless face and his hands with their fine, long fingers. Soft, 
how soft they were, running over her rough, skinny bones. 
He looked a little like his grandpa, but somehow there was 
something missing . . . 

"Well, boy, it took you a time to come home to see me die." 

"Nonsense. Cousin Edwin, I wouldn't wait on a woman 
who had so little faith in my healing powers." 

6 : jericho, jericho, jericho 

"There an't nothing strange about dying. But I an't in 
such an all-fired hurry. I've got a heap to tell you about be- 
fore I go." 

The boy leaned over and touched her gently. "Not even 
death would dispute you here, on Long Gourd, Mammy." 

He was trying to put her at her ease in his carefree way. It 
was so obvious a pretending, but she loved him for it. There 
was something nice in its awkwardness, the charm of the 
young's blundering and of their efforts to get along in the 
world. Their pretty arrogance, their patronizing airs, their 
colossal unknowing of what was to come. It was a quenching 
drink to a sin-thirsty old woman. Somehow his vitality had 
got crossed in her blood and made a dry heart leap, her blood 
that was almost water. Soon now she would be all water, water 
and dust, lying in the burying ground between the cedar — 
and fire. She could smell her soul burning and see it. What a 
fire it would make below, dripping with sin, like a rag soaked 
in kerosene. But she had known what she was doing. And 
here was Long Gourd, all its fields intact, ready to be handed 
on, in better shape than when she took it over. Yes, she had 
known what she was doing. How long, she wondered, would 
his spirit hold up under the trials of planting, of cultivating, 
and of the gathering time, year in and year out — how would 
he hold up before so many springs and so many autumns. 
The thought of him giving orders, riding over the place, or 
rocking on the piazza, and a great pain would pin her heart 
to her backbone. She wanted him by her to train — there was 
so much for him to know: how the creek field was cold and 
must be planted late, and where the orchards would best hold 
their fruit, and where the frosts crept soonest — that now 
could never be. She turned her head — who was that woman, 
that strange woman standing by the bed as if she owned it, 
as if . . . 

jericho, jericho, jericho : 7 

"This is Eva, Mammy." 


"We are going to be married." 

"I wanted to come and see — to meet Dick's grand- 
mother . . ." 

/ wanted to come see her die. That's what she meant. Why 
didn't she finish and say it out. She had come to lick her 
chops and see what she would enjoy. That's what she had 
come for, the lying little slut. The richest acres in Long Gourd 
valley, so rich hit'd make yer feet greasy to walk over'm, 
Saul Oberly at the first tollgate had told the peddler once, 
and the peddler had told it to her, knowing it would please 
and make her trade. Before you die. Well, why didn't you 
finish it out? You might as well. You've given yourself away. 

Her fierce thoughts dried up the water in her eyes, tired 
and resting far back in their sockets. They burned like a 
smothered fire stirred up by the wind as they traveled over 
the woman who would lie in her bed, eat with her silver, and 
caress her flesh and blood. The woman's body was soft enough 
to melt and pour about him. She could see that; and her firm, 
round breasts, too firm and round for any good to come from 
them. And her lips, full and red, her eyes bright and cunning. 
The heavy hair crawled about her head to tangle the poor, 
foolish boy in its ropes. She might have known he would do 
something foolish like this. He had a foolish mother. There 
warn't any way to avoid it. But look at her belly, small and 
no-count. There wasn't a muscle the size of a worm as she 
could see. And those hips — 

And then she heard her voice: "What did you say her 
name was, son? Eva? Eva Callahan, I'm glad to meet you, 
Eva. Where'd your folks come from, Eva? I knew some Cal- 
lahans who lived in the Goosepad settlement. They couldn't 
be any of your kin, could they?" 

8 : jericho, jericho, jericho 

"Oh, no, indeed. My people . . ." 

"Right clever people they were. And good farmers, too. 
Worked hard. Honest — that is, most of 'em. As honest as 
that run of people go. We always gave them a good name." 

"My father and mother live in Birmingham. Have always 
lived there." 

"Birmingham," she heard herself say with contempt. They 
could have lived there all their lives and still come from 
somewhere. I've got a mule older'n Birmingham. "What's 
your pa's name?" 

"Her father is Mister E. L. Callahan, Mammy." 

"First name not Elijah by any chance? Lige they called 

"No. Elmore, Mammy." 

"Old Mason Callahan had a son they called Lige. Some- 
body told me he moved to Elyton. So you think you're going 
to live with the boy here." 

"We're to be married . . . that is, if Eva doesn't change 
her mind." 

And she saw his arm slip possessively about the woman's 
waist. "Well, take care of him, young woman, or I'll come 
back and ha'nt you. I'll come back and claw your eyes out." 

"I'll take very good care of him, Mrs. McCowan." 

"I can see that." She could hear the threat in her voice, and 
Eva heard it. 

"Young man," spoke up Doctor Edwin, "you should feel 
powerful set up, two such women pestering each other about 

The boy kept an embarrassed silence. 

"All of you get out now. I want to talk to him by himself. 
I've got a lot to say and precious little time to say it in. And 
he's mighty young and helpless and ignorant." 

jericho, jericho, jericho : 9 

"Why, Mammy, you forget I'm a man now. Twenty-six. 
All teeth cut. Long trousers." 

"It takes a heap more than pants to make a man. Throw 
open them blinds, Ants." 


"You don't have to close the door so all-fired soft. Close it 
naturally. And you can tip about all you want to — later. I 
won't be hurried to the burying ground. And keep your head 
away from that door. What I've got to say to your new master 
is private." 

"Listen at you, mistiss." 

"You listen to me. That's all. No, wait. I had something 
else on my mind — what is it? Yes. How many hens has Melissy 
set? You don't know. Find out. A few of the old hens ought 
to be setting. Tell her to be careful to turn the turkey eggs 
every day. No, you bring them and set them under my bed. 
I'll make sure. We got a mighty pore hatch last year. You may 
go now. I'm plumb worn out, boy, worn out thinking for 
these people. It's that that worries a body down. But you'll 
know all about it in good time. Stand out there and let me 
look at you good. You don't let me see enough of you, and I 
almost forget how you look. Not really, you understand. Just 
a little. It's your own fault. I've got so much to trouble me 
that you, when you're not here, naturally slip back in my 
mind. But that's all over now. You are here to stay, and I'm 
here to go. There will always be Long Gourd, and there must 
always be a McCowan on it. I had hoped to have you by me 
for several years, but you would have your fling in town. I 
thought it best to clear your blood of it, but as God is hard, 
I can't see what you find to do in town. And now you've 
gone and gotten you a woman. Well, they all have to do it. 
But do you reckon you've picked the right one — you must 

10 : jericho, jericho, jericho 
forgive the frankness of an old lady who can see the bottom 
of her grave — I had in mind one of the Carlisle girls. The 
Carlisle place lies so handy to Long Gourd and would give 
me a landing on the river. Have you seen Anna Belle since 
she's grown to be a woman? I'm told there's not a better 
housekeeper in the valley." 

"I'm sure Anna Belle is a fine girl. But Mammy, I love 

"She'll wrinkle up on you, Son; and the only wrinkles 
land gets can be smoothed out by the harrow. And she looks 
sort of puny to me, Son. She's powerful small in the waist 
and walks about like she had worms." 

"Gee, Mammy, you're not jealous are you? That waist is 
in style." 

"You want to look for the right kind of style in a woman. 
Old Mrs. Penter Matchem had two daughters with just such 
waists, but 'twarnt natural. She would tie their corset strings 
to the bed posts and whip'm out with a buggy whip. The 
poor girls never drew a hearty breath. Just to please that old 
woman's vanity. She got paid in kind. It did something to 
Eliza's bowels and she died before she was twenty. The other 
one never had any children. She used to whip'm out until 
they cried. I never liked that woman. She thought a whip 
could do anything." 

"Well, anyway, Eva's small waist wasn't made by any cor- 
set strings. She doesn't wear any." 

"How do you know, sir?" 

"Well . . . I . . . What a question for a respectable woman 
to ask." 

"I'm not a respectable woman. No woman can be respec- 
table and run four thousand acres of land. Well, you'll have 

jericho, jericho, jericho : 11 

it your own way. I suppose the safest place for a man to take 
his folly is to bed." 


"You must be lenient with your Cousin George. He wan- 
ders about night times talking about the War. I put him off 
in the west wing where he won't keep people awake, but 
sometimes he gets in the yard and gives orders to his troops. 
'I will sweep that hill, General' — and many's the time he's 
done it when the battle was doubtful — 'I'll sweep it with my 
iron brooms'; then he shouts out his orders, and pretty soon 
the dogs commence to barking. But he's been a heap of 
company for me. You must see that your wife humors him. 
It won't be for long. He's mighty feeble." 

"Eva's not my wife yet, Mammy." 

"You won't be free much longer — the way she looks at 
you, like a hungry hound." 

"I was just wondering," he said hurriedly. "I hate to talk 
about anything like this . . ." 

"Everybody has a time to die, and I'll have no maudlin 
nonsense about mine." 

"I was wondering about Cousin George ... If I could get 
somebody to keep him. You see, it will be difficult in the 
winters. Eva will want to spend the winters in town ..." 

He paused, startled, before the great bulk of his grand- 
mother rising from her pillows, and in the silence that fright- 
ened the air, his unfinished words hung suspended about 

After a moment he asked if he should call the doctor. 

It was some time before she could find words to speak. 

"Get out of the room." 

"Forgive me, Mammy. You must be tired." 

"I'll send for you," sounded the dead voice in the still 

12 : jericho, jericho, jerichi 

room, "when I want to see you again. I'll send for you anc 
■ — the woman." 

She watched the door close quietly on his neat square back 
Her head whirled and turned like a flying jennet. She lowerec 
and steadied it on the pillows. Four thousand acres of th( 
richest land in the valley he would sell and squander or 
that slut, and he didn't even know it and there was no way tc 
warn him. This terrifying thought rushed through her mind 
and she felt the bed shake with her pain, while before the 
footboard the specter of an old sin rose up to mock her. How 
she had struggled to get this land and keep it together- 
through the War, the Reconstruction, and the pleasanter aftei 
days. For eighty-seven years she had suffered and slept anc 
planned and rested and had pleasure in this valley, seventy 
of it, almost a turning century, on this place; and now tha 
she must leave it . . . 

The things she had done to keep it together. No. The one 
thing . . . From the dusty stacks the musty odor driftec 
through the room, met the tobacco smoke over the long table 
piled high with records, reports. Iva Louise stood at one end 
her hat clinging perilously to the heavy auburn hair, the hare 
blue eyes and the voice: 

"You promised Pa to look after me" — she had waited foi 
the voice to break and scream — "and you have stolen m) 

"Now, Miss Iva Louise," the lawyer dropped his empty eyes 
along the floor, "you don't mean . . ." 

"Yes. I do mean it." 

Her own voice had restored calm to the room: "I promised 
your pa his land would not be squandered." 

"My husband won't squander my property. You just want 
it for yourself." 

jericho, jericho, jericho : 13 

She cut through the scream with the sharp edge of her 
scorn: "What about that weakling's farm in Madison? Who 
pays the taxes now?" 

The girl had no answer to that. Desperate, she faced the 
lawyer: "Is there no way, sir, I can get my land from the 
clutches of this unnatural woman?" 

The man coughed; the red rim of his eyes watered with 
embarrassment. "I'm afraid," he cleared his throat, "you say 
you can't raise the money . . . I'm afraid — " 

That trapped look as the girl turned away. It had come 
back to her, now trapped in her bed. As a swoon spreads, 
she felt the desperate terror of weakness, more desperate 
where there has been strength. Did the girl see right? Had 
she stolen the land because she wanted it? 

Suddenly, like the popping of a thread in a loom, the 
struggles of the flesh stopped, and the years backed up and 
covered her thoughts like the spring freshet she had seen so 
many times creep over the dark soil. Not in order, but as if 
they were stragglers trying to catch up, the events of her life 
passed before her sight that had never been so clear. Sweep- 
ing over the mounds of her body rising beneath the quilts 
came the old familiar odors — the damp, strong, penetrating 
smell of new-turned ground; the rank, clinging, resistless 
odor of green-picked feathers stuffed in a pillow by Guinea 
Nell, thirty-odd years ago; tobacco on the mantel, clean and 
sharp like smelling salts; her father's sweat, sweet like stale 
oil; the powerful ammonia of manure turned over in a stall; 
curing hay in the wind; the polecat's stink on the night air, 
almost pleasant, a sort of commingled scent of all the animals, 
man and beast; the dry smell of dust under a rug; the over- 
strong scent of too-sweet fruit trees blooming; the inhos- 
pitable wet ashes of a dead fire in a poor white's cabin; black 

14 : jericho, jericho, jericho 

Rebecca in the kitchen; a wet hound steaming before a fire. 
There were other odors she could not identify, overwhelm- 
ing her, making her weak, taking her body and drawing out 
of it a choking longing to hover over all that she must leave, 
the animals, the fences, the crops growing in the fields, the 
houses, the people in them . . . 

It was early summer, and she was standing in the garden 
after dark — she had heard something after the small chickens. 
Mericy and Yellow Jane passed beyond the paling fence. 
Dark shadows — gay full voices. Where you gwine, gal? I 
dunno. Jest a-gwine. Where you? To the frolic, do I live. 
Well, stay off'n yoe back tonight. Then out of the rich, gush- 
ing laughter: All right, you stay off'n yourn. I done caught 
de stumbles. More laughter. 

The face of Uncle Ike, head man in slavery days, rose up. 
A tall Senegalese, he was standing in the crib of the barn 
unmoved before the bush-whackers. Nigger, whar is that gold 
hid? You better tell us, nigger. Down in the well; in the 
far-place. By God, you black son of a bitch, we'll roast ye alive 
if you air too contrary to tell. Now listen, ole nigger, Miss 
McCowan ain't nothen to you no more. You been set free. 
We'll give ye some of it, a whole sack. Come on, now — out 
of the dribbling, leering mouth — whar air it? Ike's tall form 
loomed towards the shadows. In the lamp flame his forehead 
shone like the point, the core of night. He stood there with 
no word for answer. As she saw the few white beads of sweat 
on his forehead, she spoke. 

She heard her voice reach through the dark — / know your 
kind. In better days you'd slip around and set people's barns 
afire. You shirked the War to live off the old and weak. You 
don't spare me because I'm a woman. You'd shoot a woman 
quicker because she has the name of being frail. Well, I'm 

jericho, jericho, jericho : 15 

not frail, and my Navy Six an't frail. Ike, take their guns. 
Ike moved and one of them raised his pistol arm. He dropped 
it, and the acrid smoke stung her nostrils. Now, Ike, get the 
rest of their weapons. Their knives, too. One of us might turn 
our backs. 

On top of the shot she heard the soft pat of her servants' 
feet. White eyeballs shining through the cracks in the barn. 
Then: Caesar, Al, Zebedee, step in here and lend a hand to 
Ike. By sun the people had gathered in the yard. Uneasy, 
silent, they watched her on the porch. She gave the word, and 
the whips cracked. The mules strained, trotted off, skittish 
and afraid, dragging the white naked bodies bouncing and 
cursing over the sod: Turn us loose. We'll not bother ye no 
more, lady. You ain't no woman, you're a devil. She turned 
and went into the house. It is strange how a woman gets 
hard when trouble comes a-gobbling after her people. 

Worn from memory, she closed her eyes to stop the whirl, 
but closing her eyes did no good. She released the lids and 
did not resist. Brother Jack stood before her, handsome and 
shy, but ruined from his cradle by a cleft palate, until he 
came to live only in the fire of spirits. And she understood, 
so clear was life, down to the smallest things. She had often 
heard tell of this clarity that took a body whose time was 
spending on the earth. Poor Brother Jack, the gentlest of 
men, but because of his mark, made the butt and wit of the 
valley. She saw him leave for school, where he was sent to 
separate him from his drinking companions, to a church 
school where the boys buried their liquor in the ground and 
sipped it up through straws. His letters: Dear Ma, quit offer- 
ing so much advice and send me more money. You send barely 
enough to keep me from stealing. His buggy wheels scraping 
the gravel, driving up as the first roosters crowed. Katharine, 

16 : jericho, jericho, jericho 

Malcolm, I thought you might want to have a little conversa- 
tion. Conversation two hours before sun! And down she 
would come and let him in, and the General would get up, 
stir the fire, and they would sit down and smoke. Jack would 
drink and sing, // the Little Brown Jug was mine, I'd be 
drunk all the time and I'd never be sob-er a-gin — or, Hog 
drovers, hog drovers, hog drovers we air, a-courting your 
darter so sweet and so fair. They would sit and smoke and 
drink until she got up to ring the bell. 

He stayed as long as the whiskey held out, growing more 
violent towards the end. She watered his bottles; begged 
whiskey to make camphor — Gre't God, Sis Kate, do you sell 
camphor? I gave you a pint this morning. Poor Brother Jack, 
killed in Breckinridge's charge at Murfreesboro, cut in two 
by a chain shot from an enemy gun. All night long she had 
sat up after the message came. His body scattered about a 
splintered black gum tree. She had seen that night, as if she 
had been on the field, the parties moving over the dark field 
hunting the wounded and dead. Clyde Bascom had fallen 
near Jack with a bad hurt. They were messmates. He had to 
tell somebody; and somehow she was the one he must talk to. 
The spectral lanterns, swinging towards the dirge of pain 
and the monotonous cries of Water, caught by the river dew 
on the before-morning air and held suspended over the 
fields in its acrid quilt. There death dripped to mildew the 
noisy throats . . . and all the while relief parties, moving, 
blots of night, sullenly moving in the viscous blackness. 

Her eyes widened, and she looked across the foot posts into 
the room. There was some mistake, some cruel blunder; for 
there now, tipping about the carpet, hunting in her ward- 
robe, under the bed, blowing down the fire to its ashes until 
they glowed in their dryness, stalked the burial parties. They 

jericho, jericho, jericho : 17 

stepped out of the ashes in twos and threes, hunting, hunt- 
ing, and shaking their heads. Whom were they searching for? 
Jack had long been buried. They moved more rapidly; looked 
angry. They crowded the room until she gasped for breath. 
One, gaunt and haggard, jumped on the foot of her bed; 
rose to the ceiling; gesticulated, argued in animated silence. 
He leaned forward; pressed his hand upon her leg. She tried 
to tell him to take it off. Cold and crushing heavy, it pressed 
her down to the bowels of the earth. Her lips trembled, but 
no sound came forth. Now the hand moved up to her stomach; 
and the haggard eyes looked gravely at her, alert, as if they 
were waiting for something. Her head turned giddy. She 
called to Dick, to Ants, to Doctor Ed; but the words struck 
her teeth and fell back in her throat. She concentrated on 
lifting the words, and the burial parties sadly shook their 
heads. Always the cries struck her teeth and fell back down. 
She strained to hear the silence they made. At last from a 
great distance she thought she heard . . . too late . . . too late. 
How exquisite the sound, like a bell swinging without ring- 
ing. Suddenly it came to her. She was dying. 

How slyly death slipped up on a body, like sleep moving 
over the vague boundary. How many times she had laid 
awake to trick the unconscious there. At last she would 
know . . . But she wasn't ready. She must first do something 
about Long Gourd. That slut must not eat it up. She would 
give it to the hands first. He must be brought to understand 
this. But the specters shook their heads. Well let them shake. 
She'd be damned if she would go until she was ready to go. 
She'd be damned all right, and she smiled at the meaning 
the word took on now. She gathered together all the particles 
of her will; the specters faded; and there about her were the 
anxious faces of kin and servants. Edwin had his hands under 

18 : jericho, jericho, jericho 

the cover feeling her legs. She made to raise her own hand 
to the boy. It did not go up. Her eyes wanted to roll upward 
and look behind her forehead, but she pinched them down 
and looked at her grandson. 

"You want to say something, Mammy?" — she saw his lips 

She had a plenty to say, but her tongue had somehow got 
glued to her lips. Truly it was now too late. Her will left her. 
Life withdrawing gathered like a frosty dew on her skin. 
The last breath blew gently past her nose. The dusty nostrils 
tingled. She felt a great sneeze coming. There was a roaring; 
the wind blew through her head once, and a great cotton 
field bent before it, growing and spreading, the bolls swelling 
as big as cotton sacks and bursting white as thunder-heads. 
From a distance, out of the far end of the field, under a sky 
so blue that it was painful-bright, voices came singing, 
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho — Joshua fit 
the battle of Jericho, and the walls come a-tumbli?ig down. 


the mahogany frame 


bright smudge of the headlights slid under the darkness 
with mathematical exactitude. Dressed in his hunting clothes, 
the boy sat beside his uncle and watched the road. He sat 
rather stiffly. His new boots, greased by his mother, prodded 
the boxes of shells piled carelessly onto the floor of the car. 
He was not comfortable. The shells gave him no easy rest for 
his feet, his clothes were strange in their bulk, and he could 
not make up his mind how to act with his Uncle Bomar. 
This was to him at the moment the most serious matter in 
the world. He tied himself into knots thinking about it. He 
rather felt that the childish deference to an elder was out of 
place now that they were going hunting together, and not 

22 : the mahogany frame 

merely hunting but to the Lake for ducks. The invitation 
was plainly Bomar's way of accepting him as a man. Bomar 
did not take boys duck shooting. Quail or dove hunting, but 
never duck. He had begged too often not to know. The boy 
felt that at last he was ready for a man's pleasures and re- 
sponsibilities. This thought made him all the more anxious 
to behave as he should. This and the way his mother had seen 
them off. 

But how was he to behave? Nobody had told him, just as 
nobody had told him what it meant to put on long pants. 
His mother had cried, his father had asked the cost, his 
grandfather had spouted Latin about the toga virilis. And his 
brother Bob, all he had said was, "Keep it buttoned up, 
kid." "Of course I'll keep buttoned up,' he had answered 
with shame and petulance, thinking only of the technical 
handling of the clothes. He knew at once he had made a 
mistake, even before he saw the smirk on his brother's face. 
Suddenly the long months of expectation, at last realized, 
turned bitter under his tongue and he did not know rightly 
why. Vaguely and with confusion it came to him how narrow 
had been his understanding of what he had wanted. His wish 
had been little more than to masquerade in grown-up 
clothes. But the fact was another thing. Changing clothes 
had changed him. He felt the same and yet he was not the 
same. For days it puzzled him how this could be, then he 
gave it up as he grew accustomed to his new condition, but 
for a while longer he carried about him a feeling of unease. 
This made him sensitive and timid, so that he would cross 
over to the other side of the street rather than speak to 
someone he had known all his life. 

The car took a curve. From the darkness a large stock barn 
with white doors appeared, disappeared. A board fence made 

the mahogany frame : 23 

a slapping noise as they passed down its narrow lane. He 
watched the posts go down like piles. The air sucked in, the 
fence was gone, and he knew they were entering poorer 

"Tommy phoned me the big flights were coming in," 
Bomar said. ''Had been for two days." 

The boy stiffened in his seat, thinking desperately hard 
what reply a sportsman would make to such an important 
statement. The moment of his indecision dragged intermin- 
ably, so that he blurted out, "You reckon they'll still be 
there?" His cheeks burned with shame at the over-eager, 
inadequate words. 

"If the weather holds," Bomar replied in his slow, unexcit- 
able voice. "It's got to be cold enough for the streams and 
back water to freeze over before the ducks come on to the 
Lake in any number. It's pretty cold. I expect they'll be 

The boy leaned back in his seat. His uncle had answered 
him seriously. His question no longer seemed to him child- 
ish and ineffective. He even recovered from the humiliation 
of the leave-taking, his mother following them to the car, 
pulling his scarf about his neck, telling him not to get shot, 
not to take cold and to promise her, if his feet got wet, to 
tell the man to row him in, a few ducks is not worth pneu- 
monia. . . . Great God, Effie, the boy's going duck shooting, 
not to the North Pole. He had been grateful for Bomar's 
words then. He was more grateful now. They had not meant 
regret for asking him to come along. Maybe Bomar, too, 
knew what it was to be hindered by the solicitude of women. 

The older man reached up and turned on the car's spot. He 
played it about the countryside, objects in the rough fields, 
then set it to the center of the road. The headlights swelled 

24 : the mahogany frame 

to a new fullness and the car took up speed. "A spot is a 
good thing to have in the country," Bomar said, as if his 
gesture needed some explanation. 

"It sure is," the boy replied. 

His uncle had turned as he spoke, turned easily, almost 
lazily, and yet all his movements showed perfect coordina- 
tion. The boy felt a slight shock of surprise. His uncle was 
not so old a man as he had always thought, or rather he had 
never thought about his age at all. He had been Uncle 
Bomar, his mother's younger brother, sometimes whispered 
about in the family, but one of the opposition nevertheless 
who stoor for authority, dullness, and obstacles to freedom. 
Except that he had never been so dull as the others. He 
had threatened older boys with Bomar's name and he would 
always let you go along to pick up doves. And Bomar had 
taken time to teach him how to shoot. He looked at the older 
man's eyes as if for the first time. They wore a look of 
furious haste which seemed out of keeping with his fleshy 
cheeks. As the boy looked more closely, it seemed to him 
that the fury had grown cold and the haste had set like the 
film over the racer's pupils as he is being led from the track, 
blinded to the shouting in the stands, to winning and losing, 
to all but the burning strain of the race and the gorged heart. 

Bomar said, "You had better take that heavy coat off. You 
won't feel it in the morning. It gets cold as hell out on that 

Hastily the boy took off the coat, for the second time think- 
ing bitterly of his mother, whom he had allowed in his 
ignorance to dress him as she had once done for parties and 
Sunday School, as if the whole affair were no more than a 
fashion parade. His uncle wore his good clothes. Hunters 
changed for the Lake after they got there. 

the mahogany frame : 25 

"How do you think you will like it, kid?" 

"Oh, fine," he said hastily. "I've always wanted to go. Old 
Jake used to tell me about grandfather Laus going there. He 
said he went in a wagon and it took him two weeks to go, 
and he always stayed two or three weeks hunting and fishing. 
Jake said he was a little boy, and they took him along to 
gather up fat pine and keep the fires." 

"It's quite a difference these days," the older man said. 

"Oh, yes, sir. When will we get there?" 

"Well, we could make it tonight, but I think we'll stop off 
and sleep at Center. There's a good hotel there. The quarters 
at Hornbec are pretty rugged. And the guides keep you up 
drinking your whiskey." 

"Oh," the boy said. He kept silent a moment, then re- 
sumed eagerly. "Jake said there were all kinds of hunting, 
and on one trip grandfather Laus brought back a live bear." 

"The old boy must have been quite a sport." 

"Oh, he was. Sometimes he would sleep under the trees, by 
a spring or creek. Jake said when he put up with people along 
the way, he would copy the design of a quilt he liked and have 
his wife make it when he got back home." 

Bomar looked curiously at the boy at his side. "You seem to 
know a lot about that old guy. Which one was he?" 

"He's the one that hangs to the right of the mantel in the 
living room." 

"Let's see. That's the . . ." 

"He hangs in the mahogany frame." 

"Yeah. He was the one that was such a rounder." 

"But he reformed. Mother says he received the mantle of 
grace when the Methodists held their great revival and built 
a Church for his slaves." 

"When the hell was that?" 

26 : the mahogany frame 

"Oh, a long time ago. I don't know rightly." 

"You might know it would be a long time. The United 
Daughters like'm dead." 

The boy regarded his uncle with a puzzled expression. 
"You mean the United Daughters of the Confederacy, sir?" 

"I mean all united daughters. The club don't make any 
difference. In union is strength. That's their battle cry. But 
hell, boy, you don't know what I'm talking about," Bomar 
said with impatience. "What I mean is the only man they'll 
have any truck with is a dead one. After a certain age, that 
is. The deader the better, if he's buried deep enough so he 
don't stink." 

The boy nodded knowingly, although his head was awhirl. 
He had heard his father and his father's friends occasionally 
refer to women in disparaging terms. One spoke of women and 
preachers, he discovered, in the same tone of voice. It ap- 
parently was a thing one did to relieve certain difficult situa- 
tions, but there was never a particular women, or a particular 
preacher, named. The reference was invariably general. And 
his grandfather — only with him it was religion. He never 
spoke impolitely of ladies, but he could fling himself into a 
passion about the Church, especially at the dinner table 
when the conversation fell off. And his grandmother gave 
always the same reproving speech, in the same falsely affronted 
manner, "Don't blaspheme before these young men, Mr. 
Hancock." And Mr. Hancock would reply with righteous 
vehemence, "The truth, Madam, cannot blaspheme." None 
of this banter had he taken to mean anything, but with his 
Uncle Bomar he felt a difference. Bomar had actual women 
in mind and a grievance which seemed, however mysterious, 
real and vaguely threatening. He could not help but be dis- 
turbed the more he thought about Bomar's remark. Did he 

the mahogany frame : 27 

mean his own mother? She talked a great deal about her 
family, living and dead. The truth heretofore hidden in 
things familiar confronted him: most of the people she talked 
about were dead. 

After a while, in the silence which had fallen between the 
man and boy, Bomar said, "Forget it, kid." And the boy 
knew it was hard for him to speak, that inadvertently he had 
allowed talk which he considered unseemly to pass between 

But he could not forget so easily. Considerations too dis- 
turbing to be summarily dismissed had been set loose in his 
head. Was it true that ladies of his mother's years thought 
only of the dead, or thought of them to the disfavor of the 
living? He was sure it could not be so with his mother. The 
tales she told never called to mind the dead but only the very 
dearest of kin who perhaps lived too far away to visit. Above 
all was this true of grandfather Laus, whom she set him for 
example. "Hold your head up and step lightly," she would 
say and he knew who it was she had in mind. Or, "Always be 
able to look any man in the eye." And again, "Think what 
you please but never speak loosely and you'll have nothing to 
take back." These admonitions he was conscious of but never 
in the forepart of his mind. They underlay and gave firm 
texture to all he found delightful in his great-grandfather's 
life, and he somehow knew that had they been lacking the 
stories which won his heart would have seemed less true. But 
now that he thought of things in a way he never had thought 
before, all which touched him dearly lay bright and clear 
before his vision, the beginning, the middle, and the end 
clarified in a burst of illumination, where the parts were 
the whole and the whole defined the parts. And so it came to 

28 : the mahogany frame 

him that from his mother he got most of the admonitions but 
the stories he had from his grandfather or from Jake. 

The near duel with General Jackson he liked best of all, 
for the two friends were parted over a horse race. This seemed 
to him right and fitting, for only some such great occasion was 
proper cause to break the bonds between two "gentlemen who 
held each other in the highest esteem." The story as it was 
told, without directly accusing the General, was told to his 
discredit. Large sums had been placed on the race. In the last 
half mile the General's horse was gaining, when his grand- 
father Laus's horse threw his rider and crossed the finishing 
line several lengths ahead of his rival. Proud of himself, he 
turned to the stand where his master sat, and whinnied. At 
this point in the story his grandfather would pause drama- 
tically. "The spectators to a man rose and cheered the gallant 
animal." But of course no riderless horse could win a race. 
Words passed, just what words he was never told, a challenge 
was given and taken, but the night before the morning of the 
duel friends intervened and the matter was disposed of to 
the honor of both parties. "Else," his grandfather would say, 
"Else," he would repeat, looking significantly about him, 
"the history of our nation had been played out in different 

Tall, gallant, and forever young, this was the man whose 
image he carried, not that of the picture in the mahogany 
frame. That never made him think of grandfather Laus. It 
looked like the dead or would have so looked if the straight- 
glancing eyes had been closed. But they narrowed too sharply 
out of some great reserve, above the stiff neck and stock and 
the black broadcloth coat. He could never imagine the man 
in the picture lying under the trees, wrapped in a bear skin, 
with the shine of the camp fire on his face and the sound of 
the hobbled horses grazing in the dark. The grandfather who 

the mahogany frame : 29 

was hunter was the man he liked to think about. Now he was 
going over the same road he had taken and to the Lake where 
he had had such great sport with all kinds of game. The road 
was changed, there was no more a forest, but the Lake at 
least would still be wild and the guides simple, noble men. 

"Wake up, kid, we're here." 

He opened wide his eyes, but for a moment his senses 
delayed. Startled, he thought the car was drawing up before 
the hotel in Center under its large neon sign glowing evilly 
red in the darkness. Here the night before they had stepped 
out of the frosty air into the shabby newness of the lobby, 
had been shown to their room by a gray-haired elevator boy. 
It had seemed to him that he had scarcely closed his eyes be- 
fore his uncle was shaking him awake. Behind the desk the 
proprietor greeted them. He was dressed in hunting clothes. 
His eyes were bright as a bird's and he jerked about like a 
mechanical toy as he cocked his head to one side and talked 
glibly of the shooting, but what he wanted to find out was 
whether they would be back that night. "Bastard," Bomar 
said as they turned away. It was still dark as they passed a 
second time under the neon sign. The car was white and 
glistened in the dark. The exhaust made a loud noise in the 
deserted street. In the distance he had heard an ash can 
clattering. . . . 

"Well, here we are," Bomar said and got out of the car with 
a motion which was quick for a man his size. He called into 
the darkness, "Anybody seen Tommy?" 

A voice answered, "He stepped up to his house. He'll be on 
down in a little." 

"Are we really here?" The boy asked. He noticed that he 
had lowered his voice. His uncle had spoken right out. 

"This is Hornbec. There's the Lake over there." 

30 : the mahogany frame 

The boy glanced towards a rough pier, but it was all dark 
beyond and he could see nothing of the water. They walked 
up the narrow street which bordered the Lake. Lights from 
the windows and door of a plain two-story building glared 
from its porch and threw a milky shadow onto the steps. But 
the light did not penetrate, although he could see his uncle's 
face and the half-solid forms of men stirring busily around 
him. He was wide-awake now, with the cold wind from the 
Lake blowing his face, but he felt as if he were acting in a 
dream, where all was topsy-turvy yet all seemed natural. It 
was this very naturalness of things which made him feel as 
he did: people going about their business, talking in a normal 
voice, but all in the dead of night. 

"Let's go in the hotel," Bomar said. 

Inside it was warm and bright. Some dozen men dressed in 
their hunting clothes, several of them in hip boots, sat 
around a pot-bellied stove. It was red hot about its middle. 
He shivered and walked over to warm himself. 

"How about a little breakfast, Nelly?" Bomar called out and 
walked into the long dining room. 

The walls were plain and unfinished. Most of the tables 
were in disarray and he could see that the guests of the hotel 
had already eaten. Where he sat, there were crumbs on the 
cloth and somebody had spilled catsup. The woman Nelly 
came in with fried eggs shining white with grease, thick bacon, 
large thick biscuits, and coffee in heavy china cups. She 
flung her head and shoulders about as she walked. The boy 
thought he had never seen less sense in a face, but he could 
see the hunters liked her or at least that she thought the 
hunters liked her. 

"Good old Nelly. She won't let us starve," Bomar called 
out with too loud a heartiness and grabbed playfully at her 

the mahogany frame : 31 

waist. She tossed her head and flung herself out of the way, but 
her wide bright eyes grew brighter. 

"Quit, now-wah," she said. 

The brazen stupidity in her dare that was not a dare chilled 
his spirits. The eggs were cold, but he ate the bacon and 
poured a lot of milk and sugar in his coffee and drank it. 
The coffee was steaming hot. 

"Paul's wife may come up with him today," Bomar said to 
the girl. 

"I hope she does." 

"Do you now?" 

"Why not. I ain't got nothing to hide." 

"No. Nothing to hide. Nothing at all." 

"That's right." 

"Who did I see kissing you?" 

"He was jest being jolly." 

"Yeah. Jolly. Good old jolly Paul." 

"That's right," she said. "Jolly and friendly. You all want 

"Sure. You want us to go hungry on that Lake?" 

"I didn't know. I thought maybe you'd brought lunches 
with you." 

Bomar turned to his nephew. "This hotel think it's got a 

"We don't care where you stay." Her head came up. A light 
flush at the cheek bones rushed to her eyes. For the first time 
the woman seemed real to the boy. His mother had told him 
that plain people were quick to take offense but it was her 
show of pride which gave her being, and he understood that 
it was a thing she held in common with those around her as 
she shared a speech which his mother called country. 

"Well, will you be here tonight?" she continued. 

32 : the mahogany frame 

Bomar paused. "Yeah. The kid and I'll be here." 

"I jest wanted to know. I have to plan about supper." 

She left the dining room, and the man and boy ate hur- 
riedly and in silence. From the other room they heard spurts 
of talk. None of it flowed easily, as happens with men who 
are idling. It jabbed at the silence, a silence enclosing a time 
of waiting upon action, when the mind grows fearful lest its 
edge grow dull from images. The boy was trying to catch the 
drift of the talk. He had not heard the soft steps approaching. 
He heard only the words, "Now if you ain't a pretty bastard." 

He stiffened and waited for the blow which Bomar in all 
honor must give. He waited a second. There was no stirring 
of the chair. He raised his eyes upon his uncle's smiling, 
placid features. 

Bomar 's lips were moving. "You ain't no handsome son-of- 
a-bitch yourself," they said. 

"Getting in here this time of day. You drive all night?" 

"Hell, no. We stopped off at Center to get a few hours 

"What you think you are, a goddam tourist?" 

"You got an interest in this hotel?" 

"Hell, no. It's just the company you keep. When I want 
to sleep in a whore house, I don't want no pimp to show me 
my bed. That mealy-mouthed bastard dressing up like a 
hunter to catch the suckers like you, only I didn't know you 
was a sucker before. And they'll steal there, too." 

"Hell, Applegate." 

"Hell they don't. Last week a man from Indiana lost his 
purse with ninety-seven dollars in it." 

"You're just afraid he'll take away your business." 

"Hell. None of the guides around here will go up there. 
And we don't let him down here." 

the mahogany frame : 33 

Bomar turned to his nephew. "Kid, shake hands with 
Tommy Applegate." 

The boy rose and gave the small heavy-set man his hand. 
He was a little dazed. Bastard and son-of-a-bitch were fighting 
words, not friendly greetings. He didn't understand. He knew 
his uncle had fought for less, much less. And he well knew 
that no such greeting would have passed between grandfather 
Laus and his lean, weathered guide, when they met again at 
the return of the hunting season. But of course there were no 
professional guides in those days. The people who lived about 
the Lake at that time hunted or trapped for a living. They 
might go along with a friend out of pure courtesy, or for com- 
panionship, but he was sure they took no money for it. But it 
was not money either. It was the greeting which shocked and 
puzzled him. For a second his hand gripped the guide's hand. 
He felt the inert calloused flesh, and the strength within, near 
the bone, but there was no response to his clasp. The man 
was not being unfriendly; but as he drew away the boy 
felt he had been rebuffed. Later he remembered the eyes. 
They were brown, which he did not expect. And there was 
something else, something wrong about them. They lacked 
the sharpness of a hunter's eyes. 

"We are about ready to shove off, kid," Bomar interrupted. 
"We're going to the first pocket. Tommy got you a good guide. 
Watch him, though, or he'll shoot up too many of your shells. 
And you give him this at the end of the day." 

The boy looked at the money. "All of this, Uncle Bomar?" 

"Yeah, I know. It's too damn much, but it's what they 

Outside the darkness was thinning. The Lake spread out for 
a way like a black floor. The boy hesitated on the edge of the 
porch. His clothes were slick from the cold, but the blood 

34 : the mahogany frame 

charged through his body. It seemed a trivial thing that he 
had worried at not finding the place and the people what he 
had expected, for the surroundings are nothing. The only 
thing that mattered was the shoot. Hunters passed him on the 
steps, all with a common purpose, the same thoughts, the 
same sense of excitement and expectation. He could feel it 
as they went by. One or two looked curiously at him. He 
knew he must go on or they would think him strange, but 
still he delayed to savor the full measure of the experience 
before it was played out by the act. All this stir, the time of 
day, the learning of the guides, the rich men who hunted, 
who came from places where their word was law, others who 
came out of some urgent need they did not rightly under- 
stand — all of them now and in his great-grandfather's day, 
were guided, were governed by the instincts of a bird. Bomar 
half turned. "Where are you?" He called sharply. 

"Coming," the boy answered and hurried down the steps. 
He noticed that Bomar 's bulky clothes spreading out over his 
hips enlarged them. He looked from the rear like his mother. 

At the water's edge two boats were drawn close into the 
bank. Tommy was standing in one. Bomar was handing him 
his gear. 

"Your gun unloaded?" Tommy asked. 

"You know I wouldn't hand you any loaded gun," Bomar 

"Be goddamned sure. I don't want you to blow my ass off." 

"Don't put it where it'll get wet." 

"If it gets wet, you'll get wet. Hand me that sack of char- 

"Your arm's not broke. Pick it up." 

"What's the matter with your back? Been riding it too 

the mahogany frame : 35 

"My back's all right. This is Jack Daniel's number seven. 
Catch it." 

"Three's my lucky number." 

"Well, this will more than double your luck. Won't it, 

A man looked up from blowing the charcoal burner in the 
adjoining boat. The light from the charcoal showed a pair of 
flat eyes, with sharp points at their centers. Even in the steady 
red glow his features seemed pale. He said dryly, "He'll 
double your drinks." 

"This is the kid, Goosetree, that's going with you," Bomar 

The man nodded. "They'll make the noise, sonny," he 
said. "We'll bring in the meat." 

"Hell," Tommy said with heavy scorn. 

"I've got the gun will do it," Goosetree added. "And this 
boy looks like he can shoot." 

"You may get a mud hen or two." 

"I'm going to hole up at the point. We'll bring'm in." 

"Bring in my ass," Tommy said. 

"Now that ud be a right heavy load." 

The boy no longer felt ill at ease with these people. At first 
he had been repelled by their obscenities. The words had 
struck him with all the force of their literal meaning. And in 
his disgust there had been fear, not so much of the men and 
the place, as of his own sensations. All things he had found 
different from his imaginings. Bomar 's unintended remarks 
in the car had begun it. He had got in beside his uncle, never 
doubting that things could ever be otherwise than as they 
seemed. He had found that even a fact about which there 
could not be the slightest uncertainty, such as Bomar's eyes, 
was not a fact at all. Almost without attending it, so fast did 

36 : the mahogany frame 

it happen, one certainty after another had slipped away from 
him until he felt exposed in all his privacy. Now this in some 
way had changed. He had scarcely listened to the guide's 
talk. He watched them get the boats set for the shoot. What 
they did went quickly, but there was no haste to their move- 
ments, and their banter was spoken with as little attention to 
the meaning as the congregation repeating the doxology on 

Goosetree straightened up. His movement was unmistak- 
able. There came a pause and Bomar turned hastily. "Now, 
kid," he said, "you got to lead these ducks." 

"Like doves?" 

"Yeah. Maybe further. I can't tell you exactly. You'll have 
to judge. But when they come flying in at you, shoot at their 
bills." He stepped into the boat. "All ready, me lads?" 

"We been ready," Goosetree replied. 

The boy sat forward in the boat, astraddle the charcoal 
burner. There was barely room for his legs and he had to 
watch to see that his boots didn't burn. They pushed off and 
he thought surely the ice must chew up the bottom of the 
boat. The going got better after a while, but every now and 
then the guide had to strike the ice several times before he 
could set the oars to water. The darkness thinned and the 
cold began to bite into him. It had a different quality over 
water. He felt weight as well as chill. He wore two wool 
shirts, a heavy wool coat and next to his body close-knit 
woolen underwear, but it went through all these garments 
like air through a sack in a broken window light. He got to 
wondering if he could stand it all day and leaned forward 
to rub his hands over the open mouth of the burner. 

His teeth began to chatter and he drew down his chin so it 
wouldn't be seen. He could hear Bomar and Tommy. Their 

the mahogany frame : 37 

voices had the flat clear sound of coming from a distance and 
yet they were not far away. And then he looked up. . . . 
Dawn had swamped the sky. There was no light and yet he 
could see. He was first conscious of a wonderful ease to his 
eyes. Wide open, without a thread's strain, they saw every- 
where through the colorless haze. Never had he been able 
to see so clearly and so far. He thought it must be like this 
with animal eyes at night or whenever they hunt, to see and 
not know they are seeing, when the vision and prey are made 
one for the spring. A wonderfully fresh strength streamed 
through his body. All things seemed at a beginning. It was 
the world on the first day. 

The boat struck a snag. He looked more closely about. 
Black slick tree trunks stuck up out of the water like the 
splintered piles of a pier which had rotted away. Occasionally 
they passed a stump that was still alive, but its stunted growth 
only made the desolate surroundings more forbidding. And 
the Lake, he saw, was forbidding. Miles upon miles of saw 
grass, more grass than water, and everywhere the illusion of 
solid ground. Slimy ooze, even quicksand, was its floor. His 
first elation drained away. He told himself the place was not 
meant for man. It was more foreign and distant to his ex- 
perience than the most outlandish reaches of human habita- 
tion. Over him came a great and terrible loneliness. 

The boats entered an open pocket of frozen water. His boat 
began to rock and he grasped the sides. 

"Give with the boat," Goose tree commanded. 

"What's the matter, Mr. Goosetree?" 

"Nothing's the matter. I'm breaking the ice.'* 

"What for?" 

"To throw out the blocks." Goosetree's voice made him feel 
the depth of his ignorance. 

38 : the mahogany frame 

The ice broke up in sheets and the boat sloshed it out of the 
way. Into the open water the guide began to throw his decoys. 
He unwound the string, glanced at the water with quick pre- 
cision and then threw out the painted block. In no time the 
false birds rode their anchors in front of the blind. Goosetree 
now drove the boat into the edge of the grass. He handed the 
boy a pole. "When I pull, you push on that," he said and 
stepped into the water. His hip boots sank down and he said, 
"All right." At each push the boat slid further into the blind. 
Empty shells and cigarette butts soiled the flattened tufts of 
grass. One cigarette, scarcely smoked, touched the water, its 
damp brown insides spilling and staining the paper. A smear 
of lipstick gashed its upper end. Instinctively the boy averted 
his gaze. A blot formed in the blue-gray haze, hung for a 
moment to the air, desperately, noiselessly fluttering its wings, 
turned and disappeared. Motionless, he watched the spot 
where it had been, feeling he could almost have touched the 
duck, if duck it was, for how could its wings beat so and not 
make a sound? 

"I reckon it's hid," Goosetree said. 

"No, it just melted away," the boy replied. 

Goosetree's eyes came on guard. The boy said hastily. 
"Oh, the boat. Yes, sir, it looks hid." 

"What'd you think I meant?" 

"I didn't hear you well." 

He felt that his guide was studying him, trying to make up 
his mind whether he was responsible enough to risk in the 
close quarters they must keep. At last Goosetree pulled him- 
self out of the water and began to prepare the boat for action. 
He set the burner between them, changed the seats so that 
they faced each other, set his lunch beside him, his water 
bottle to the rear. He took bunches of grass from both sides 

the mahogany frame : 39 

and tied them together over the boat. Carefully he loaded 
his gun and set it down pointing into the grass. He loaded 
the boy's and handed it to him. "Point it that way," he said, 
"and always keep the safety on until you get up to shoot. 
And don't get up until I tell you." 

"Where are Uncle Bomar and Tommy gone?" he asked. 

The guide was dropping charcoal into the burner. "They 
went to the other side of the pocket." He leaned over to blow 
the coals. The boy noticed that his hands were black and his 
face sooty from handling the coal. When the fire suited him, 
he dropped a tomato can over the low tin chimney, then rose 
in the boat. He stood with his body half bent and with a short 
jerk of the head looked up. A shadow passed over his eyes as 
he flicked them across the arc of the sky. 

"See anything?" the boy asked. 

"They'll be in," he replied. 

Then they sat in silence, leaning towards each other over 
the burner. Around the boat, out of the grass, the cold boiled 
up through a slimy mist. Now that they were settled and 
waiting the boy felt his body relax and his head grow dull. 
He was wondering how he could get up from his cramped 
quarters in time to shoot. He did not see the guide rise. He 
heard the shot and looked up, his heart fluttering, in time to 
see the red feet draw up under the white belly, see the inert 
body slanting to the Lake. 

"When they hit the ice, they don't git up no more," Goose- 
tree said. He added, "I seen him too late to call you." 

His first feeling was chagrin and resentment. A guide 
should give others a chance to shoot. But in his heart he 
knew he had been a bad hunter. Too much excitement had 
worn him out. He must learn how to wait, be idle and still 
wound up, like a spring. That was it. Like a spring. 

40 : the mahogany frame 

"There they come," Goosetree hissed. 

"Where?" he breathed. 

"A Susie. In front of you." 

Almost overhead and to the left he saw the duck. The 
spring in him snapped. He heard the report of his gun, saw 
the bird falter, fly for a hundred yards and then go down. He 
shot at another passing to his front, missed, shot and missed 
again. He tried to aim but his eyes felt frozen and wide 
open. His gun and Goosetree's went off together. The bird 
stopped short in flight and fell straight down. For the first 
time Goosetree smiled. 

"I missed the second shot," the boy said and his voice was 
trembling and his throat dry. 

"You didn't lead him enough. The air from your load 
fanned his tail." 

"We both shot at the same time. Think we both got him. 
I expect you got him." 

"It was a teal," Goosetree said, glancing swiftly around. 
The sky seemed to open out of his eyes. 

It seemed a long time before the next ducks flew over. At 
last he heard, "There!" He grabbed his gun, half rose. "Git 
down," the guide ordered and hastily put his hands to his 
mouth and called, the reedy imitation of the duck's cry rasp- 
ing the air. The call seemed too urgent to the boy, faster than 
a bird would make. The birds dipped and turned, then flew 

"No use aiming. Whenever they see you, it's too late." 

"Did they see me?" 

"Hell, yes. Never get up until you're ready to shoot." 

The nasal call to death and the sound of guns travelled 
from different parts of the Lake, gradually drifted into silence 
until the whole world grew as still as the painted ducks riding 

the mahogany frame : 41 

their anchors in the pool of rotten ice. He and the guide 
were close enough to touch. The intimacy which was not 
intimacy began to close in on him. He felt that he ought to 
say something. He said, "Is your son going to follow in your 
footsteps, Mr. Goosetree?" 

"Hell, no. There's no money in guiding. Soon's he's old 
enough I'm going to send him to college." 

"I would think this was a wonderful life," the boy said in 
surprise, "being able to hunt or fish every day and get paid 
for it." 

"It gits stale, up before day freezing your balls off sloshing 
around in this ice." 

The guide picked up a jug of milky water and poured it 
into a pan and set the pan on the open mouth of the burner. 
"I'll make us some coffee," he said. "And we can eat. The 
ducks won't be back until about eleven o'clock. I've noticed 
that's the time they been coming in." 

He measured the coffee and dumped it into the water, took 
a dirty rag and carefully wiped out two cups and put them 
beside him. Then he took a spoon and began to stir the 
coffee and blow the coals. "No," he said, "it's hard on you. 
I'm going to quit it soon. I bought me the finest summer 
house ever built around this Lake. Old man Simpkins built 
it, a rich lumber man from Mississippi. He spent eight 
thousand dollars on it. Built it of pine and not a knot in it, 
plumbing, lights, frigidaire, and good water. I heard his 
widow wanted to sell and I let her know by the woman who 
looks after it that I might, might mind you, try to buy it. 
So old lady Simpkins called me long distance. And I asked 
her what she wanted for it and she commenced telling me 
how much she'd put in it. I cut her off. I said I'll give you two 
thousand cash for it. She couldn't listen to any such figure, 

42 : the mahogany frame 

it was giving it away. Two thousand's my offer. Take it or 
leave it. She hung up on me. But a week later I got a letter 
from her son saying his mother couldn't bear to come up here 
no more since her old man had went away and that they'd 
close the deal." Goosetree poured a cup of coffee and handed 
it to the boy. "I'd of give twenty-five hundred as easy as I 
give two thousand." He unwrapped a sandwich. 'Tm going 
to build two cabins, put a toilet and shower in em, they's 
eight rooms to the house, and rent by the week or month. A 
man and his wife can come up and fish. They come sometime 
with women they claim to be their wives. There'll be money 
in it." 

"How many'd you get?" A voice from the Lake asked. 

It was Bomar and Tommy. Goosetree rose, "Aw, we got'm 
boys. How many'd you knock down?" 

"None," Tommy said. His face was grave and averted, as 
though still turned from the incomprehensible workings of 

"We shot twice, but they were too high," Bomar added 

Tommy began throwing out his decoys. 

"Don't throw them blocks out here," Goosetree said. 

Tommy rowed about, continuing to throw them out. He 
asked, "Don't we work together?" 

"Hell. The quarters is too close." 

Bomar said in his slow, soothing voice, "Goosetree, I 
believe you are afraid we'll outshoot you." 

"Who's got the duck?" 

"Well, how many did you get?" 

"Three," Goosetree said, his voice less belligerent. 

"I really got one, Uncle Bomar. On the nose." 

"Fine, kid." 

the mahogany frame : 43 

"Yes, sir, this boy's gonna knock'm," Goosetree said. The 
boy felt a glow of pleasure. He was beginning to think more 
of his guide. 

Tommy masked his boat in the grass behind the others. 

"You want some coffee?" Goosetree asked. 

"We got something better'n coffee," Tommy replied. 

"Here, take a drink," Bomar said. 

Tommy turned up the bottle. His Adam's apple worked 
like a piston as the bright brown liquid flowed down his 
throat. He wiped the mouth of the bottle on his sleeve and 
returned it casually. "Warms you better than any charcoal," 
he said matter-of-factly. 

From where he reclined in the boat Bomar took a drink. 
The boy noticed it was much less than Tommy took. "How 
about it, Goosetree?" 

"I got ulcers. Drinking too much in Arkansas," Goosetree 
replied. "God, but that stuff lightened you as it went down. 
Set your tail on fire." 


"No, thank you, sir." The boy knew by the way the whiskey 
was offered that he was supposed to refuse, but he mightily 
wanted to taste it. He drank his coffee instead and took a bite 
out of a ham sandwich. There was too much bread for the 
meat and he threw away the top slice. 

"My daddy tole me to stay out'n Arkansas," Goosetree 

"Ain't nothing there," Tommy added sourly. 

"I went over there to a duck-calling contest oncet. I called 
as purty as ever you please." Goosetree added bitterly, "They 
give the prize to a eleven-year-old boy." 

"Ain't nothing for nobody in Arkansas," Tommy said. 

The boy tried another sandwich, peanut butter and jelly 

44 : the mahogany frame 

spread together on the bread. It tasted good. At least it wasn't 
so dry. He finished his coffee and felt better for the food. 

"Tommy, where are these duck you called me about?" 

Tommy looked shocked at the question and glanced over 
the Lake towards the woods. "They're roosting on the re- 
serve," he said. 

"Government birds, eh?" Bomar said. "Well, they'll sit on 
their fat asses until we starve to death." 

Tommy looked even more serious. "They'll come out after 
a while," he said. 

"That was humor, Applegate. You wouldn't recognize it, 
though. It bore no reference to fornication." 

Bomar drank again and passed the whiskey to his guide. 
Tommy took it and turned it up in one motion. He swallowed 
like a thirsty man drinking water. "That's seven times seven," 
he said. "What does it make?" 

"You drunk," Bomar replied. 

"It'll make you holler." He opened his mouth and his voice 
rang lustily over the Lake. 

Bomar examined his companion's face for a moment. 
"Applegate," he said, "if you had rings in your ears, you'd 
look like a damn pirate." 

Tommy shouted again. "Hi-yo!" 

The boy thought he did look like a pirate, anyway like a 
foreigner, the way his eyes didn't suit his rough, swarthy 
features but looked both boldly and evasively at the same 
time. With Mr. Goosetree it was different. He looked like a 
guide ought to look, although he was a little small and didn't 
think much of guiding, which was a disappointment the boy 
didn't explore but which lay uneasily in the back of his head. 
But Tommy at least was human and it was somehow because 
of his eyes. Watching the sky, they absorbed it like a blotter. 

the mahogany frame : 45 

Maybe it was this which made him seem always on guard. 
When Mr. Goosetree looked at the sky, he skinned it. 

"Hi-yo!" Tommy shouted again. As if suddenly spent by 
the shouting, he said, "My daddy was a Jew and my mother 
an Indian. Now ain't that a hell of a combination?" 

He had half turned away. Bomar looked at him but said 
nothing. Tommy continued in a conversational tone. "He 
used to trade up and down this country. I reckon he made a 
pretty good living until he took to drinking. When I was a 
shirt-tail boy, he'd come in on Satday nights and run all of 
us out of the house. I sort of liked it in summer, like a kid 
will. My mother would bed us down in the leaves and moss. 
It didn't seem to worry her much. I reckon Indians are sort 
of used to the woods. There was generally plenty to eat. She 
made a good truck patch. She'd take the littlest one and go 
out in the corn when it was tosselling and sing to it. Home- 
sick kind of a singing. As I got older, I didn't like it so much. 
Looked like he didn't do so well trading. He'd come in during 
the week drunk and beat her up. She never hollered, but 
if he tried to take his scantling to one of us young-uns, she'd 
scratch and bite him like a cat. 

"I was about eleven, I guess. We still had plenty to eat, 
well not a plenty but enough. She always managed to keep us 
in victuals, but we was all ragged. It takes money to buy 
clothes. He wasn't doing no trading at all, except he'd take 
her corn and swap it for licker. Well, he come a night of the 
worst blizzard that ever you saw, mean drunk and dirty. 
He looked like he'd been laying out for a week. He com- 
menced cussin' and stumbling around and hollered, 'Clear 
all these half-breeds outer here.' I said, 'Daddy, I don't aim 
to go out in no blizzard.' His red eyes kind of bulged at me. 
He picked a old table leg that was laying around and come 

46 : the mahogany frame 

toward me. I raised the gun. He still kept coming. I let him 
have it right in the belly." Tommy's voice ceased. He said 
after a while, "Sober, he wasn't no mean-natured kind of a 

Without saying anything Bomar passed the whiskey over to 
Tommy. Nobody spoke again for a long while. Goosetree had 
covered himself up and gone to sleep. Bomar lay back, re- 
clining in the boat. The day had advanced but there was no 
sun to relieve the cold. The frozen clouds stretched tight 
across the sky. After a while the boy became conscious of 
Bomar's soothing voice. It flowed too smoothly. It was getting 
confidential. He recognized the signs. Miserable from the 
cold and the long, trying wait, he felt the shoot would be a 
failure. Nobody would watch for the ducks, maybe there 
wouldn't be any more to come in. He felt the need to stand 
up. It was a little less cold up in the air. There was not a 
duck in the sky. He looked down and his blood danced. 
Three were playing in the water before a jutting strip of the 
grass. "Look, Tommy," he cried. 

"Mud hens," Tommy said and sat back down. 

Bomar had turned where he lay. His eyes were gay. "What," 
he asked, "would the old boy, what's his name, Menelaus, 
say if he knew his grandson had taken a mud hen for a duck. 
The pious Menelaus, our noble ancestor, unequalled in the 
arts of field and stream and Ovid's pupil. What would he say, 

He was too surprised to say anything — Bomar wondering 
about grandfather Laus, too, for it was plain that he only 
pretended to recollect his name. . . . 

"Never, oh, never, would that nonpareil, that prince among 
men, that cock of the walk, have mistaken a mud hen for a 
duck. Or so we're told. What I like, Applegate, about this 

the mahogany frame : 47 

revered ancestor of mine and the kid's, was his timing. Now 
I know that timing is everything, but damn if I can bring 
it off. But this guy Menelaus did. When he was young, he 
went the rounds. When it came time to settle down, he didn't 
settle, but nobody held it against him, least of all his large 
female connection. He hunted when he wanted to, he had 
plenty of money, he played the races and was a family man 
all at the same time. He was a genius, Applegate. And while 
he stepped high, wide and handsome, his Helen stayed at 
home making quilts and raising his young. That's the way to 
do it, Applegate. Be fruitful and multiply. And don't forget 
the quilts. He didn't. He made it a point to keep her in fresh 
patterns, just in case. . . . And then when he had dropped all 
the grains of corn from one jar to the other and it was time 
to change'm back, he saw the light. At a camp meeting at 
Walnut Grove the dove, not the kind you're thinking about, 
Applegate, but the blessed, the miraculous dove, came bear- 
ing the twig of salvation." He paused. His voice had grown 
harder as he spoke. "Don't take it hard, kid, you're not the 
first to take a wooden nickel." 

He couldn't make heads or tails of what his uncle was say- 
ing. What did a wooden nickel have to do with it? It was very 
important. He could tell by Bomar's voice. Before he could 
try to figure it out, Tommy interrupted. 

"There was a lady here fishing once named Helen," Tommy 
said. "She come here with a doctor from Chicago. They 
claimed they was married, but I been rowing a long time. 
These two didn't much care whether they caught anything or 
not. She wasn't having much luck and I said — I wasn't think- 
ing anything — 'diddle on this side.' I meant her hook of 
course, and she said, 'What? Right there?' and giggled. You 
know, it was the way she giggled. And the doctor, he laughed 

48 : the mahogany frame 

too. They did a sight of loose laughing." Tommy leaned over 
and stirred the charcoal in the burner. "When I first took up 
guiding people, didn't no women come here to hunt or fish." 

Bomar raised his bottle, "Here's to Argive Helen and all 
her kin." 

The boy felt the boat move. Goosetree was awake and star- 
ing at Bomar's large, well-wrapped body. "Look at him," he 
said, "laying over there like a fattening hog." 

Far away, over near the island a lone gun shot once. It made 
no more noise than a popgun but the men in the two boats 
grew very quiet. Then all rose to their feet. Goosetree took 
out his watch. "Eleven twenty," he said. 

The importunate duck calls, still at a distance, now buzzed 
like insects. More guns went off over by the reserve. The 
firing was scattered. Then somebody said, "Get down." The 
boy didn't see anything and he got panicky. "Coming over 
you." "Where, where?" he asked in a tight voice. And then 
all four of them were shooting furiously. He thought he hit 
one but he wasn't sure. Two of the ducks turned and flew 
over a blind across the channel. The hunters there shot up a 
lot of shells but the ducks went on their way. Goosetree 
called out, "You want my gun?" His voice was taunting and 
cheerful. "You can have my gun if you want it." 

"How about that for shooting, Applegate?" Bomar asked. 
His voice was even and full. 

"Boy, you stopped him." 

"Didn't I stop him, though?" 

"Did you? A mallard, too." 

"Purty good shooting," Goosetree said. "But look over here 
in the water." 

"Here's where to look," Tommy called back. "Them ducks 
jest killed theyselves, but we had to shoot to bring'm down." 

the mahogany frame : 49 


"We're hitting them, ain't we?" Bomar said. 

"Watch it, boys," Goosetree snapped. 

Down in the boat Tommy was calling. The hunters across 
the channel called. The boy crouched and watched the bird, 
the bending wings, the red feet drawn in. . . . The duck 
dipped and dove toward the water. The world vanished. 
There was nothing but space, a streak in space. The moving 
bolt was all. His ears crashed, the thud against his shoulder, 
another crash, the red feet gashed the white breast. The dead 
body dropped and the world was. 

"Not bad, kid." 

"I think you got him, Uncle Bomar." 

"Hard to say. We shot together." 

The two of them, the boy and his uncle, were alone in the 
boat. They watched the guides row from place to place, 
gathering in the ducks. At last the long full day was over. 
Behind the island the darkness crouched. As if sensing the 
hunters could no longer shoot, the ducks now lighted every- 
where around them. "God, God ..." Bomar whispered. Then 
the guides turned their boat about. It sped toward the hunters. 
Quietly the water parted about the prow, quietly closed be- 
hind the rippling wake. No sign of passage marred its surface 
— waiting to receive the falling night. 

"It's been a good shoot," Bomar said evenly. "But it's 

The boy turned towards his uncle. What he saw made him 
raise his hand, as though for support. Bomar stood erect and 
waiting. His eyes were regarding the boy: they were the eyes 
in the mahogany frame. 


mr. macgregor 



Yes, sir, that's what he said. Not marster, but MISTER 
MacGREGOR. If I live to be a hundred, and I don't think 
I will, account of my kidneys, I'll never forget the feelen 
that come over the room when he said them two words: 
Mister MacGregor. The air shivered into a cold jelly; 
and all of us, me, ma, and pa, sort of froze in it. I 
remember thinken how much we favored one of them wax- 
work figures Sis Lou had learnt to make at Doctor Price's 
Female Academy. There I was, a little shaver of eight, 
standen by the window a-blowen my breath on it so's I 
could draw my name, like chillun'll do when they're kept to 
the house with a cold. The knock come sudden and sharp, 

54 : mr. macgregor 

I remember, as I was crossen a T. My heart flopped down 
in my belly and commenced to flutter around in my break- 
fast; then popped up to my ears and drawed all the blood 
out'n my nose except a little sack that got left in the point 
to swell and tingle. It's a singular thing, but the first time 
that nigger's fist hit the door I knowed it was the knock 
of death. I can smell death. It's a gift, I reckon, one of 
them no-count gifts like good conversation that don't do 
you no good no more. Once Cousin John Mebane come 
to see us, and as he leaned over to pat me on the head — 
he was polite and hog-friendly to everybody, chillun and 
poverty-wropped kin especial — I said, Cousin John, what 
makes you smell so funny? Ma all but took the hide off'n 
me; but four days later they was dressen him in his shroud. 
Then I didn't know what it was I'd smelled, but by this 
time I'd got better acquainted with the meanen. 

Ma was rollen tapers for the mantel. She stiffened a 
spell like she was listenen for the North wind to rise; rolled 
out a taper and laid it down. She went to the door and put 
her hand square on the knob; hesitated like she knew 
what was comen; then opened it. There stood Rhears. He 
was the coachman. Him and his wife Delia was ma's pets. 
The both of'm was give to ma by her pa at the marryen; 
and in a way that folks don't understand no more, they 
somehow become a part of her. Ma liked horses that wanted 
to run away all the time, and Rhears was the only nigger 
on the place that could manage'm. He was a powerful, 
dangerous feller. He'd killed the blacksmith and two free 
niggers in the other county before ma brought him to 
Long Gourd. His shoulders jest but stretched across the 
opening, as he stood there in a respectful-arrogant sort of 
way with a basket-knife in his hand. 

mr. macgregor : 55 

"What do you want, Rhears?" His mistress asked. 

"I want to speak to Mister MacGregor," he said. 

Pa had been scratchen away at his secretary. At "Mis- 
ter" the scratchen stopped. That last scratch made more 
noise in my ears than the guns at Shiloh. Without a word, 
without even looken behind him, pa stood up and reached 
for his gun. The secretary was close to the fireplace and 
had a mirror over it. He didn't waste no time, but he didn't 
hurry none either. He just got up, took off his specs, and 
laid them as careful on the secretary, just like he meant 
to set'm in one special place and no other place would 
do. He reached for the gun and turned. 

Rhears warn't no common field hand. He was proud, 
black like the satin in widow-women's shirt-waists, and 
spoiled. And his feelens was bad hurt. The day before, pa 
had whupped Delia and Rhears had had all night to fret 
and sull over it and think about what was be-en said in 
the quarters and how glad the field hands was she'd been 
whupped. He didn't mean to run away from his home like 
any blue-gum nigger. He jest come a-marchen straight to 
the house to settle with pa before them hot night thoughts 
had had time to git cooled down by the frost. 

Pa turned and walked towards him. He still moved as 
steady and solemn. I watched the even distance each boot- 
heel made and calculated that two more steps would put 
him up to the threshold. Just to look at him you might 
have thought he was a-goen towards the courthouse to 
pay his taxes or walken down the aisle to his pew. All of 
a sudden he come to a stop. Ma's brown silk skirt had spread 
out before him. I looked up. There she was, one hand tight 
around the gun stock, the othern around the barrel. Her 
left little finger, plunged like a hornet's needle where the 

56 : mr. macgregor 

skin drew tight over pa's knuckles, made the blood drop on 
the bristly hairs along his hand; hang there; then spring to 
the floor. She held there the time it took three drops to 
bounce down and splatter. That blood put a spell on me. 

A gold shiver along ma's dress made me look quick at 
their faces. Her hair was a shade darker than the dress she 
was wearen and slicked down around her ears. There wasn't 
no direct sun on it, but a light sorghum color slipped up 
and down as if it was playen on grease. The light might 
have come from her eyes, for they was afire. She was always 
fine to look at, although her face wasn't soft enough to 
rightly claim her beautiful. But she would have taken the 
breeches away from any ordinary man, I tell you. She'd 
rather manage folks than eat. Pa ought to have let her do 
a sight more of it than he did. She was happier than ever I 
seen her the time he went to the legislature. But he didn't 
take to politics somehow. He said the government rooms 
smelled too strong of tobacco and stale sweat. He couldn't 
abide the smell of tobacco. He was a mighty clean man, 
the cleanest I ever come across. Took a washen once a day 
reg'lar. When I come to think about ma, I see her a-studyen 
about somethen, with a wrinkle in her eyes. She didn't have 
to tell the servants not to bother her then. They stayed out 
of her way or went tippen around if their work took'm near 

Well, pa saw he couldn't get his gun out of her grip 
without acting ungentlemanly. He gave her a curious look 
and a low bow; then turned it loose. Taken off his coat and 
folden it, he laid it across a chair. Ma was marbly-pale 
when she stepped out of the way, but she moved easy and 

For a long time I never could make out the meanen of 

mr. macgregor : 57 

them looks, nor why ma done what she done. And she 
never set us right about it. She wasn't the explainen kind, 
and you can bet nobody never asked. I'd just as soon've 
asked the devil to pop his tail. It's bothered me a heap in 
my time, more'n it's had any right to. I reckon it's because 
I always think about it when I'm taperen off. That's a 
time when a man gits melancholy and thinks about how 
he come not to be president and sich-like concerns. Well, 
sir, when I'd run through all my mistakes and seen where if 
I'd a-done this instead of that how much better off I'd be 
today, and cuss myself for drinken up my kidneys, I'd 
always end up by asken myself why that woman acted like 
that. I've knowed a sight of women in my day, knowed'm 
as the Bible saints knowed'm, as well as in a social and 
business way; and I'm here to say, sir, they are stuffed with 
dynamite, the puniest of'm. 

It was a question of authority, and a time when whuppen 
was out of the argyment. All you had to do was look at 
Rhears and that basket-knife sharpened thin like a dagger, 
a-hangen as innocent agen his pant leg, to see he didn't 
mean to take no whuppen. He must have felt in his Afrykin 
way that pa had betrayed him. Folks jest didn't whup their 
house servants, and Rhears was a-meanen to teach pa his 
manners. Niggers can think straight up to a certain point, 
and beyond that the steadiest of'm let their senses fly like 
buckshot, high to scatter. It never struck him that Delia 
needed her whuppen. No, sir, he was jest a-standen in the 
door tellen pa he warn't his marster. 

Now ma might have thought that pa ought, with his 
proper strength, to show him who his marster was. There 
ain't no doubt but what he had to show it in some way, 
or he might as well have sold all his niggers for any work 

58 : mr. macgregor 

he could a got out'n them. Still it was a powerful big risk to 
run. And it was plain she was a-meanen for him to run it. 

Anyway, that was the construction the kin put on it, and 
it was natural they would. But it never satisfied me. I got 
it in my head that Rhears warn't the only person on Long 
Gourd who didn't claim pa his marster. Before I tell you 
what I mean, give me a little taste of that shuck juice — 
half a glass'll do, jest enough to settle the dust in my belly. 
I'm about to choke to death with the drought. 

Aah . . . that's sweet to the taste. Now, sir. You'll excuse 
me if I lean over and whisper this. That other body was ma. 
I know it ain't a-goen to sound right, for she and pa had 
the name of be-en a mighty loven couple. But a man and 
woman can fight and still love. Most of'm enjoy fighten. 
I ain't never seen one get wore out with it. They can go 
on with a fight for years. Can git fat on it. When they win 
out, they put the man down amongst the chillun and give 
him a whuppen when he forgits his manners or sasses 
back. But if he's stout enough to put her and keep her in 
her place, she don't hold it agin him. She's proud to think 
she picked such a game one. That's how come I never 
married. I'm peaceful by nature. Ain't but one thing 
ever gits me fighten mad: that's putten salt in my whiskey. 
That riles me. I'll fight a elyphant then. 

Well, sir, that morning Delia was late. Ma had had to send 
for her twice, and she come in looken like the hornets 
stung her. She fluffed down to her sewen and went to work 
in a sullen way, her lip stuck out so far it looked swole. 
And they ain't nothen meaner-looken than a blue-black, 
shiney lip of a sullen nigger woman. It looks like a devil's 

Directly ma said, "Delia, take out that seam and do it 
over again." 

mr. macgregor : 59 

"Take it out yourself, if it don't suit," she flounced back. 

In a second pa was on his feet: "Woman, lay down that 
sewen and come with me." 

Them was his words; and if a nigger can git pale, Delia 
done it. She seen right away what a mistake she'd made. 
She fell on the floor and commenced to grab at ma's skirts. 
"Don't let him whup me, mistiss. Don't let him." For a 
while ma didn't say a word. 

"Get up off that floor and come with me," said pa again. 

"Mister MacGregor, what are you going to do with this 

Pa never made her no answer. He walked over and lifted 
Delia up by the arm. 

"Don't you tech me; you don't dare tech me. I belongs to 

Pa shuck her till her teeth rattled; then she stopped 
her jumpen and goen on and stood there a-tremblen like a 
scared horse. 

"Mister MacGregor," come ma's even tones, "you're not 
going to punish that girl. She's mine." 

And with that pa turned and said in a hard, polite way 
he never used before to ma: "And so are you mine, my dear." 
Then he nodded to Delia to go before him, and she went. 

When he came back, ma was standen in the middle of 
the floor just where he had left her. She hadn't moved a 
peg. She just stood there, stiff as a poker, her head thrown 
up and her eyes as wide as a hawk's. 

"I have whipped Delia and sent her to the field for six 
months. If at the end of that time she has learned not to 
forget her manners, she may take up again her duties here. 
In the meantime, so you will not want, I've sent for P'niny. 
If you find her too old or in any way unsuitable, you may 
take your choice of the young girls." 

60 : mr. macgregor 

He waited a breath for her answer and when it didn't 
come, got on his horse and went runnen over the back road 
down to the fields. No other words passed between them 
that day. At supper the meal went off in quick order. There 
wasn't no good old-fashioned table talk. Everybody was as 
polite to one another as if they was visiten. Ma sat at the 
foot, froze to her chair. Pa at the head like a judge ex- 
pecten shooten in the court. We knew somethen was bound 
to blow up and bust; and I do believe if somebody had 
tromped on a hog bladder, we chillun'd a jumped under the 

Next mornen it come. That bow of pa's, as he let go of 
the gun, was his answer to the challenge. For you might al- 
most say pa had whupped ma by proxy. And here was 
Rhears, agen by proxy, to make him answer for it . . . 
a nigger and a slave, his mistress's gallant, a-callen her 
husband and his marster to account for her. I don't reckon 
they'd been any such mixed-up arrangement as that before 
that time; and I know they ain't since. 

I scrouched back in the corner and watched, so scared 
my eyes turned loose in their sockets. If Jesus Christ had 
a touched me on the shoulder and said, "Come on, little 
boy, and git your harp," I'd a no more looked at him than 
if he'd a been my dog come to lick me. For pa and Rhears 
was a-eyen one another. This fight was to be accorden to no 
rules. I saw straight off it would start fist and skull and 
work into stomp and gouge. If pa didn't manage to git 
that knife away from the nigger, it would be cut and grunt 
as well. 

Pa was the slimberer of the two, but he wouldn't a 
looked it away from Rhears. From necked heel up he was 
six feet — no, six feet four — and his boots raised him an 

mr. macgregor : 61 

ench higher. Right away he took a quick easy step forward, 
and both of m tied their muscles together. Rhears tightened 
his fingers around the knife. I looked at pa's breeches. They 
fit him tight; and the meat rolled up, snapped, then quivered 
under the cloth. His butt give in at the sides and squeezed 
away its sitten-down softness. His waist drawed in and 
pumped the wind into his chest, a-pushen out his shoulders 
just as easy and slow. I don't believe you could have found 
a man in the whole cotton country hung together any 

Pa, quick-like, sunk his hand in and around the black 
flesh of Rhears' neck. The knife swung backwards, but pa 
grabbed it with his left hand before it could do its damage. 
A breath, and Rhears was a-spinnen round the room. The 
basket-knife lay in the door as still as any of the pine floor 
boards. This rattled the nigger some. He had figured on 
gitten Mister MacGregor in the door, where he could a used 
the knife to advantage. Fighten in his mistress's room, a 
place he didn't feel at home in, rattled him some more. So 
before he could come to himself good, pa lambed a blow 
into his black jaw. It was a blow fit to down a mule, but 
Rhears shook his head and run in to close; changed quick; 
dropped low and butted. Four quick butts jambed pa agen 
the wall, where he saved his guts by grabben Rhears' 
shoulders — to hold. That kinky hunk of iron slowed down. 
Both men shook under the strain. The noise of destruction 
held up. All you could hear was a heavy, pumpen blowen, 
like two wind-broke horses drawen a killen load . . . then 
a rippen cry from Rhears' coat — and it was good broadcloth 
— as it split both ways from the small of his back. Both 
men drawed in their breaths for a long second. 

Pa shifted neat and shoved hard. Rhears smashed a 

62 : mr. macgregor 

sewen table top into kindlen wood before he hit the wall. 
That table saved his neck, or I'm as good a man as I used 
to be. Before he could get his bearens, pa was a-pounden 
his head into the hard pine floor. I looked for the brains to 
go a-splatteren any time, and I begun to wonder how far 
they would slide on the floor's smooth polish. But God 
never made but one thing tougher'n a nigger's head — and 
that's ironwood. Slowly Rhears raised up and, with a 
beautiful strain of muscles, got to his feet. Then him and 
pa went round the room. It looked like that bangen had 
set the nigger crazy. A stranger comen into the room would 
a thought he was set on breaken up ever stick of furniture, 
a-usen pa for his mallet. Once the two of'm come close to 
ma, so close the wind they made blowed her skirts; but 
never a peg did she move. She held as rigid as a conjure 

Directly the nigger begun to wear some. All that crazy 
spurt of energy hadn't done him no good. Gradually pa's 
feet touched the floor more and more; then they didn't 
leave it. The panten got heavier, more like bellows. A chair 
got in their way. They went over it. They did a sight of 
rollen — up to the door crowded with house servants, all 
a-looken like they had fell in the ash-hopper. You could 
follow how far they'd rolled by the sweat on the floor. It 
looked like a wet mop had been run by a triflen hand. Then, 
sir, my hairs straightened up and drawed in to hide under 
the scalp. Rhears had ended up on top and was a-shiften 
to gouge. Pa looked all wore down. I tried to holler to 
ma to shoot, but my throat was as parched as it is right 
this minute. . . . Thank you, sir. You are very generous. 

Have you ever seen a long dead limb stretched between 
sky and droppen sun? Well, that's how still ma held on 

mr. macgregor : 63 

to that gun of pa's. I couldn't stand to see them black 
thumbs go down. As I turned my head, I heard the nigger 
holler. Pa had jerked up his knee and hit him in a tender 
spot. He fell back and grabbed himself. It must have been an 
accident, for pa made no move to take advantage of the 
break. He just lay there and let Rhears take hold of himself 
and git at pa's throat. I never seen such guts in nobody, 
nigger or white man. Bump went pa's head on the floor. 
Bump and agen. Ever time he lifted pa, he squeezed tighter. 
Ever time he come down he pushed him forward. 

It had been one of them frosty December mornens, and 
a fire had been burnen in the chimney since first light. 
The front stick had been burned in two and left between 
it and the back stick a heap of red and blue hickory coals. 
They don't make no hotter fire than that. I saw right away 
what Rhears had in mind. Every time he bumped my 
father's head against the floor, he was that much nearer the 
hearth. Pa wriggled and jerked, but his wind was cut and 
the black blood ran into his eyes. Those heavy black hands 
growed deep in the red, greasy flesh of pa's neck. 

They moved slower towards the fire, for pa had at last 
clamped his legs in a way to slow'm down. Then I saw 
him reach for his pocket. Rhears didn't see this move. His 
eyes was bucked on what they had in mind to do, and the 
heat from the hickory logs made'm swell with a dark, dry 
look of battle luck. After some fumblen pa finally brought 
out his knife. He opened it in a feeble way over the nigger's 
back, and let it rip and tear through his ribs. The blood 
first oozed; then spouted. It fell back from the knife like 
dirt from a turnen plow. Then pa made a jab back of the 
kidneys. That done for him. He grunted; turned loose and 
rolled over like a hunk of meat. 

64 : mr. macgregor 

Staggering to his feet, pa went over and leaned agen 
the mantel. Directly Rhears spoke up, so low you could 
hardly hear him: 

"Marster, if you hadn't got me, I'd a got you." 

Then he shook with a chill, straightened out, and rolled 
back his eyes. Mister MacGregor looked at him a minute be- 
fore he turned to his wife. And then no words passed his 
mouth. He reached out his hand and she walked over and 
handed him the gun. He reached over the mantel and, his 
arms a-tremblen, set the gun back in its rack. 

"Bring me a pan of warm water, the turpentine, and 
the things out of my medicine chest." That was ma speaken, 
sharp and peremptory, to the servants in the doorway. 
"And take this body out of here," she added in a tone she 
used when the girl Sally failed to dust behind the furniture. 

"Sit down in that chair, Mister MacGregor, so I can dress 
your wounds." 

Pa done what she told him. She worked away at him 
with deft, quick fingers. Directly I heard her in a off-hand 
way, her head benden over and her hands busy wrappen: 

"Colonel Winston will be through here on his way 
South. I think it would be best to sell him Delia." 

"I think that, my dear," said pa, "would be the most 
sensible thing to do." 


ortiz's ma$s 



amice, dropped the flowing alb over his head and quickly, 
with deft and accustomed fingers, fastened the girdle about 
his middle. His server handed him the stole. The cords of 
the girdle were brought up, looped, the maniple slipped on 
his arm, and then with care he put on the rich and stiffly 
embroidered chasuble. Abstractedly he looked through the 
door of the hut. The altar stone was in place upon the 
cypress log, the crucifix stood up, slim and pure, before 
the great dirt wall of the mound. Upon the corporal the 
Sacred Vessels waited. The flames of the two candles, he 
noticed, twisted and curled before the morning breeze. He 
should have ordered some kind of screen. He turned to his 

68 : ortiz's mass 

server to bid him find something, changed his mind. The 
army had already gathered, the entire army. They had 
never shown themselves so eager for worship before. He 
would speak to them on the vice of curiosity. He continued 
to look abstractedly at his server. That Cacho was a worth- 
less lad, slothful and he feared already marked with every 
sin. Assisting at Mass in spurs. Perhaps, though, there was 
nothing vain in this. It was only the way the boy wore 
them. "Cacho, take off those spurs." The acolyte looked as 
if he would disobey; then leaned over and reluctantly un- 
buckled the straps. The spurs dropped to the ground with 
a clink. 

He must perform well this morning. The Governor had 
asked Mass to be said especially for this Ortiz. For twelve 
years the Christian had gone without hearing God's Word. 
Twelve years . . . the man had forgotten how long it had 
been. He had had to ask the time he was cast away. It was 
fearful to contemplate, this loss of the knowledge of time. 
Day following dark day, time hurrying him to death and 
judgment, when time would be no more, and he so deep in 
savage sloth as not to know or care. One had only to look 
to see that he had been wholly lost. There in the presidio 
rubbing the Governor's shoulders for greeting like any 
heathen until even the Governor had mistaken him for 
an Indian. "No, no, Ortiz, greet your lord in a civil way," 
the Constable had said and laughed. 

It was not a thing to laugh about. There was too great 
levity in certain quarters of this armament. Ah, Holy Mary, 
ever Virgin, is it not enough that Your Son has died once 
so bitterly for man? Is the spirit so weak, so ready to fall 
into fors:etfulness, that each morning He must be sacrificed 
afresh? Must He each day cross the brook of Kedron and 

ortiz's mass : 69 

climb the Mount of Olives, climb anew to his agony, to the 
kiss of betrayal? Must He stand by the Roman Pilate's 
couch as he laves his hands and hear, Crucify Him! Crucify 
Him! from the lips of those who when He went down into 
the city sang hosannas and cast palm branches at the feet 
of his ass? Ah! Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Thou that stonest 
the prophets! How often would I have gathered ye under 
my wings as a hen doth her chicks, and ye would not! Ye 
would not! 

"Look, Father," Cacho said. "Juan Ortiz dressed in the 
black velvet the Governor gave him. . . . How strangely he 

Father Francisco raised his eyes. 

Beside de Soto's brisk step Ortiz swung wide his legs and 
set each foot down in place after the other. He twisted his 
neck as though the collar choked him. He scratched himself. 
It was a cool morning, but sweat gathered in beads on his 

" — besides he gave him his second best coat of mail, a 
breastplate of silver gilt and ..." 

"Peace, boy," the priest said sharply. 

Ortiz paused uncertainly. The Governor was sinking 
to his knees and crossing himself. For an instant Ortiz 
watched his superior; then quickly followed him to the 
ground. Father Francisco sighed. At least he has not for- 
gotten to do reverence before the altar. . . . 

"Did you speak, Father?" 

Perhaps after all the Church is wise to make daily the 
Sacrifice of Our Lord, the Sacrifice which consecrates, the 
Consecration which is the Sacrifice — Christ Himself offer- 
ing Himself. 

"It is time, Father. The Governor looks this way." 

70 : ortiz's mass 

The priest nodded his head and followed the acolyte out 
of the hut. 

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. 
He had come to the foot of the altar. 

An object came between Ortiz and the crucifix. He ran 
his hand over his eyes, removed it: the priest was bowing 
and striking his breast — through my fault, through my 
fault, through my most grievous fault. Standing at a dis- 
tance, contrite, the concealing heart punished, bruised, and 
humbled; the human race fallen and driven from Paradise: 
four thousand years of misery, sickness, and death, four 
thousand years of repentance for sin and hope in the 
promised Redeemer. 

Again that promise was about to be fulfilled. If only he 
could quiet his body. Spasms had seized it the moment he 
sank to his knees, all trembling, before the Presence on the 
altar. Out of the forest at his back the light which flows 
before the sun fell upon the silver cross and, as he watched, it 
ran with blood. For him it ran. He beat his breast in a 
frenzy of remorse and fear and hope, and then he grew 
very quiet, his head thrown slightly back as though trans- 
fixed suddenly by a blinding light. In that instant he felt the 
darkness of his purgatory slip from his eyes . . . 

He was pulling towards the shore, he and Gonzalez, dip- 
ping their oars in the limpid water, pulling towards the 
letter held up on the stick by the Indians. Surely there was 
no treachery. The companions they had left on the brigantine 
were overcautious. Obviously it was a letter left by de 
Narvaez telling where he had gone, and to find him they 
had been sent out from Cuba. It was their service to look 

ortiz's mass : 71 

into so plain a clue. And then some impulsion had made 
him look back. The brigantine was riding at anchor and 
it seemed that all on board were dead. The tiny men hung, 
motionless, over the gunwales; the sails drooped; at the 
water line the small craft leaned on the sea. In that moment 
he knew that he and Gonzalez were lost. He turned to 
Gonzalez to speak of his forewarning, but Gonzalez was 
bending over the oar. And what could he say to him? The 
Indians ran down into the water and pulled them ashore. 
Others came whooping from the forest. Gonzalez drew his 
sword. Once he heard him cry out, only once so quickly 
was it done ... on the sand the flat and naked trunk quivering 
and spurting blood, the dark sponge of sand, an arm, a leg, 
the hair, the very privates of his companion swinging in the 
air. Cries and whoo-whoo-whoops. He shut his eyes and then 
he felt a stinging at his shoulders. He was being pulled along 
a path through the forest. 

The priest ascended to the altar, bent over it. 
Oramus te, Domine . . . 

A short distance from the gulf, but deep in the forest, 
the Indians halted and built a fire. All but two scouts who 
went off to stand watch gathered around in silence as the 
war leader stretched Gonzalez' scalp on a hoop, tied it with 
gut, and carefully, so as not to burn the hair, dried it 
over the coals. This done, the savage took a red paint from 
his pouch and painted the scalp and the hoop. His server 
brought a branch of the green-leaved pine, and to this the 
hair was tied. Then calling the scouts, the leader set out 
again on the path. As he, Ortiz, followed in file, his eyes 
would not turn away from the arms and legs of Gonzalez 

72 : ortiz's mass 

scattered in the hands of his captors. "He was here. He is 
gone — gone." He repeated the word as if by repetition he 
might surprise the meaning, but the words were like the 
sounds of a foreign tongue. He be^an as;ain. "An hour 
ago he was alive and pulling at the oar." He tried to see 
him, but just as Gonzalez' form was about to appear an arm 
or the hoop of hair swung before his eyes. Then the leader 
whooped and answering whoops came back through the 
trees. He turned cold: they had reached the Indian town. 

The trees gave out at an open ground on one side of the 
town. As they came in view, the Indians spread out in 
single file, each a few yards behind the other, whooping 
and insulting the prisoner. They entered the yard singing 
the death song, raising at intervals the shrill whoo-whoo- 
whoop. Women and children, young warriors and old men 
came out to meet them. In the center of the yard stood a 
pole. To this his captors tied him and then carried the hair 
and Gonzalez' members into the town. His turn would come 
soon, he thought, and as he began to envy the fate of his 
friend, the crowd gave way. An Indian of great dignity was 
coming towards him, at his side an old man with an owl- 
skin headdress and claws through his ears. Seven tattooed 
warriors followed close behind. Ortiz looked narrowly at 
the Indian but something made him avoid his face. He was 
crowned with eagle feathers. From his shoulders fell a 
skin held up by an attendant. About his ankles loops of 
shells tinkled as he walked. Upon his arms he wore bracelets 
of shell. Upon his breast hung a copper plate. And then, 
as he drew nearer, Ortiz saw the face. Below the feathered 
head, below the malevolent eyes, two holes gaped for nos- 
trils. Through a lipless mouth teeth parted in a perpetual 

ortiz's mass : 73 

Slowly the Indian approached. Like doom he bore down 
on the Christian. On he came to within a foot of the pole. 
Ortiz pressed his back to the wood but the Indian had 
stopped. He tried to look away but the cold red eyes sank 
into his and held them fast. Strands of flesh about the 
death-like holes trembled as the breath sucked in and out. 
A long time the two men confronted each other; then slowly 
large tears gathered under the flaming lids and rolled down 
the tattooed face. Suddenly the cacique threw back his 
head and gave a wail of despair. The cries were taken up 
and rose through the crowded yard. At the height of the 
wailing the cacique fell upon Ortiz with his hands. The 
long nails scratched at his eyes, tore the flesh from his face. 
As suddenly the cacique turned and walked away. 

From where he was tied, Ortiz could see the war leader's 
house. In front of it, on either side of the doorway, two rows 
of women faced each other, singing in their soft shrill 
voices a solemn, moving air. They would sing for a minute 
and then keep perfectly silent for a long interval, when 
they began again. And as they sang, they gave their legs a 
small muscular motion without lifting their feet or bending 
a joint. All night they kept this up. Every two or three hours 
the war leader came out and danced about his war pole 
facing the door. Three times he went around it, against the 
sun, whooping and singing. 

Towards dawn Ortiz fell asleep. He had scarcely closed 
his eyes when he was aroused. His guards were stripping him 
of his clothes. Half-dazed, he leaped up and kicked out 
about him. They struck him with a club and he came to his 
senses. Overhead he heard a hissing and popping noise. He 
looked up. A burning brand had been tied to the pole. 
Moccasins were being put on his feet, bear skin with the 

74 : ortizs mass 

black fur turned out. At one corner of the yard women 
were piling brush and sticks under a low scaffold. Black 
on his feet; fire over his head. He had received his sentence. 
Black is the sign for death. 

Around the corner of the yard the Indians gathered. 
Between him and the scaffold women were forming in two 
lines. He saw them go to the leader of the party who had 
taken him and give into his hands an herb. Suddenly he saw 
he was naked. He began to shiver and shame overwhelmed 
him. The cacique passed with his family and nobles and 
sat himself on a bench covered by brush. At a signal from 
the cacique the guards unbound Ortiz' hands. The women 
began to jeer and shake their sticks. At the head of a line 
an old woman, her thin gray hair falling over her face, 
danced, her long, dry paps flapping at her sides. Feebly 
she raised a stone hoe and shook it. A girl turned about, 
lifted the moss over her rear and thrust it towards him. 
His guards pushed him forward. He held back. They jabbed 
him with the ends of their clubs. Not until then did he 
understand what they meant him to do. He took in his 
breath and began to run down the lane. The sticks and 
hoes fell upon his back and shoulders. He dodged and struck 
out at faces which came too close. Behind he heard the 
clatter of sticks beating together. Half way through he 
stumbled. As he was going down, a blow across the eyes 
blinded him and he lay for a full half minute and took 
his punishment. A fat leg came down by his ear. He 
grabbed and bit it, jumped up and butted his way clear, 
caught two women off balance and rammed their heads 
together. Gales of laughter greeted this stratagem. 

When he came to, he was tied to a wooden frame. The 
frame was raised in the air and two old men were putting 

ortiz's mass : 75 

clay on his hair. He looked at his feet and his hands. They 
began to throb. "I am a Saint Andrew's cross," he said. And 
then four men lifted him and carried him across the yard 
to the scaffold. He began to notice the sounds, the death 
whoops and shaking of rattles, but most of all he noticed 
the high, shrill yelps of the women. He got a whiff of 
smoke, a crackling persistently travelling, like a lone man 
running through brush. So would the last man run on the 
day when the graves open and give up their dead. ... A 
yellow flame leapt up at his side. It was thin and without heat. 
Under him he felt a round spot of heat. He squirmed out 
of its way. The cords cut into his flesh. A hot awl bored at 
his ribs, melting and spreading. He raised up. It still bored. 
Another struck his backbone. He began to scream. His 
screams were drowned by the laughter of the Indians. . . . 

The priest returned to the center of the altar. 
Kyrie, eleison. 

Lord, have mercy upon us. 
Christe, eleison. 

Christ, have mercy upon us. 

Mercy, mercy, mercy. He was lying on the floor of a 
cabin, his dry lips moving in supplication. Soft hands were 
spreading a cool paste over his blisters. He closed his eyes 
not to see for fear it would cease, in fear that it was not 
true but an illusion of pain. The hands continued to soothe, 
and where they passed the sharp throbbing grew duller 
and he could feel the heat of the fever. He tried to remember 
what it was to suffer from fire but his senses were dull 
and blank. Pain cannot be heard or seen or touched or smelt. 

76 : ortiz's mass 

It lacks a taste. It has no memory. Under the cool hands his 
mind wandered, grew drowsy. 

When he awoke splinters of light fell through the cane 
walls. He had slept into doom and out again or was this 
another station in his progress? He sat up, but the motion 
twisted his wounds so that, leaning on his arms, he made 
a low moan. It was then he saw the girl. She was standing 
by him and words came out of her mouth, and she pointed 
to the couch. The skins were damp and his own odor was 
mixed with the stronger smell of cat. Watching the girl, 
he let himself carefully down on his side. She did not come 
nearer or move away. Her hair hung loose over her shoulders 
and the moss skirt hung loose about her thighs and as they 
looked at each other he understood it was she who had 
saved him from the frame. And then an old woman passed 
between them and gave him a cool, slimy drink out of a 
conch shell. 

He did not count the days, but quickly, so it seemed, 
quickly, his body mended, although there must have been 
a time when the flesh under his blisters had mortified. 
By bending and straining his neck he could see the track 
of worms. How close, he thought, the worms had come to 
the full measure of their feast but for his luck, the unac- 
countable, the against-all-odds luck. Or was it luck? What 
had she seen in him, scratched and bleeding beyond any 
comeliness? Had it been pity or had it . . . The old woman, 
her mother, the first wife of the lipless, earless, gaping 
cacique, had said, moons later — when he had come to be 
held in some esteem — had said that it seemed to them — 
to them — a pity for one so young, without war honors, a 
boy with smooth and unpricked skin, to be burned like a 
fighter who has brought in much hair. And when the girl 

ortiz's mass : 77 

had begged his life of her father, the cacique saw only the 
child he loved. He forgot the dishonor the Christians had 
done him, forgot his mother thrown to the dogs. Her he 
could forget now that the hair of Gonzalez had released her 
spirit from haunting the eaves of the lodge. Little did he, 
Ortiz, think that comfort would ever come from seeing the 
hair of his friend waving at the end of a pole. This scalp 
had saved his life, for once the dead are at peace the living 
do not recall them to mind lest memory renew their sorrow. 
But Ucita, though he could forget his mother, found always 
fresh cause to remember his shame and his grief. Dipping 
a shell into the great jar of water, he would see the two 
holes where his nose should be, the fangy teeth, the clipped 
ears such as adulterers have. And he would hurl the shell 
into the jug, raise the whoop of grief. 

Ortiz would hear and flee to the woods and there he would 
stay until the girl, coming upon him like silence, would 
tell him it had passed. He might return to the town, not 
to the lodge but to the hut of the wind clan whom the 
skunk, Ucita's clan, called nephew. Then quietly one day 
he would sit down with the uncles of his master, dip into the 
same pot with him and them, first throwing a choice piece 
of fat into the fire to make it merry. But as the days passed 
and he grew strong and well, the cacique's anger returned. 
The Indian would not look at him or in any way recognize 
his presence, but once by chance Ortiz turned and saw 
him watching, and he knew that some evil was preparing in 
the cacique's mind. 

But those days he was too weary for thinking or fear. 
The women set him to menial tasks but mostly he brought 
in the wood. They gave him a stone axe and thongs to 
tie the sticks and all day he must pass through thick woods to 

78 : ortiz's mass 

be torn by thorns and brush and worn away lifting and 
carrying. How simple one good Biscayan axe would have 
made his task! The sun brought sores to his shoulders and 
chest; the wind parched them; the heavy loads tore them 
afresh, made them bleed. And then he would lie down by 
the wood, too weak from weariness and bleeding to drag it 
or lift it. In those moments his comfort was the Lord Jesus 
who had suffered and bled for him. 

One morning a man of the potato clan ran out of his 
house with a lighted brand and waved it over his head, 
lamenting and crying out; then he dipped the brand into 
water and watched it sink down. The cacique's wife came out 
of the lodge and stood by Ortiz and all the people came 
out and watched the Indian. "What happens, old woman?" 
Ortiz asked. She replied, "The spirit of his son has left 
its body." When he returned that night, green boughs of 
mourning hung all about. For four days the child's kin, 
at morning and evening, whooped and cried around the 
house where it had dwelt so that its spirit would not 
linger to haunt them. The morning of the fifth day the 
cacique spoke to Ortiz, "You will watch the bones of the 
dead," he said. 

Stepping in their tracks, he followed the two old beloved 
men. At first he had been pleased at his change of occupa- 
tion but now that he was on his way to watch the dead his 
thoughts turned sober. Instinctively he felt that his posi- 
tion was more precarious than at any other time since he 
had been condemned to burn on the frame. He had begun 
to understand the beloved speech but more than that, he 
had learned somewhat the things the Indians held taboo, 
especially of the dangers to the sacred fire in polluted people. 
He had watched the women at their time of the moon 

ortiz's mass : 79 

slip into the woods to stay until their uncleanness had 
passed, and in that time he knew how careful they were 
never to let the wind blow by them to others or wash in 
water that would flow by the town. He had seen war parties 
withdraw into the lodge of their leader and fast for three 
days, with a Knower watching the youngest to make sure 
they drank the white drink and kept away from their women, 
so that no pollution could damage the ark of war and bring 
disaster upon the war party. It was indeed serious to watch 
the dead, or he would not be so carefully escorted. Four 
times they had made him wash in the stream and chew 
green tobacco until he had retched and vomited. And the 
girl had slipped him a sabbia to keep him from harm. 
It was wrapped tight in white deer skin and tied to his 
flap. Very carefully she had taught him the song to sing 
and what to do to make him see well at night. She had tried 
to steal a true male sabbia, for that had many powers. It 
could charm a deer within range of the arrow and what 
could charm a deer would charm a woman. She had said 
this openly and frankly, coming close so that the moss 
about her middle teased his thighs and he reached out to 
take her but she shook her head. They could not have love 
with him as he was, a boy set down among women. So the 
cacique had planned, although it was known to all when 
she saved him from the frame that she had seen he was 
good and without blemishes. Perhaps soon now, if he 
guarded well the bones. But there were many perils — 
the wolves that would come stealing the breath of the bodies 
they loved and the ghosts of the dead who were like wolves 
of the air. And then she gave him some hilis hatki to chew. 
This would drive away the ghosts, but he must watch the 
old beloved men as they approached and do as they did. 

80 : ortiz's mass 

And then she slipped away, for he would be called to purify 
himself and she must not be seen. . . . 

The priest finished the Collect. He placed both hands 
upon the Missal and faced the east. O Orient, splendor of 
light eternal, thou Sun of Justice, come and enlighten those 
who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death — . 
Ortiz watched his lips, moving swiftly and soundlessly, as 
he read the Epistle. He could not hear but through the 
priest's lips passed all the prophets, soundlessly to the ear 
but crying in the heart, out of the wilderness smelling of 
goats, in the streets where the stench of the market rose 
with the words. . . . And that one man sent from God who 
is not the Light but is sent to bear witness of the Light, 
the Light born not of blood, nor of the will, nor of the 
will of the flesh. . . . 

The old beloved men were no longer moving. He stopped 
at their heels. He was not abrupt and yet his motions beside 
theirs seemed violent and clumsy. Their very stillness was 
motion, the motion of sap hidden under the bark, their 
walking a kind of flowing, an unobtrusive extension, an 
integral part, of the wilderness which enclosed them and 
him. Not a leaf shook as they passed, but where he went 
vines and thorns leaped to bind him. An overwhelming 
feeling of strangeness oppressed him. He would never dis- 
cover the mystery of this absolute oneness between the 
Indians and their world. And yet to live he must do more 
than understand it. 

They were taking hilis hatki out of their pouches. Quickly 
he put some into his mouth and began to chew it. He 
tasted the earth which still clung to the herb and his spit 

ortiz's mass : 81 

ran bitter, and into his nose crept an odor, sweet and 
faintly nauseous, a thin cool odor which stuck like glue. 
He chewed and watched. The old men spat out of one corner 
of the mouth, then out of the other. Turning slowly and 
with slow dignity they spat four times each way; and as 
they moved, the stuffed horned owls on their heads turned 
and bowed, turned and bowed, and their red eyes watched 
him as he followed the ritual, step by step. Then his mouth 
grew dry and silently he dropped the root at his feet. The 
old men had faced about and were viewing him gravely. 

The oldest put two darts into his hand and pointed to 
the green thickets to the right; then, stepping around him, 
the Indians departed. Not more than a hundred paces 
away he saw through the trees what looked like great eagle 
nests, but eagles do not build in the low forked limbs. 
"They build in the tops of the highest and the deadest 
trees," he said aloud. All at once he felt an acute nostalgia 
for his wood-gathering, the buffets of the old women and all 
the contempt which had been heaped upon him since he 
had cried out at the frame. He looked at the darts. They 
were good ones, flint-pointed and balanced well. He gripped 
them tight and began walking towards the burial ground, 
and then drifting through the air he smelled the same cool 
sweet odor, invisible, resistant, clinging yet penetrating, 
surrounding him yet passing, and suddenly thick with 
nausea. He reached up to brush it from his face. It had 
saturated his hands. He leaned over and wiped them on 
the ground. It rose in waves from the ground. Holding his 
breath, he pulled moss out of the trees and stuffed it in his 
nose. The moss was corrupt. He tore it out, drew in his 
breath. His stomach heaved but he held it down and ran 
into the center of the burial ground. There surrounded 

82 : ortiz's mass 

by the rough log coffins caught haphazardly in trees or 
resting on frames, he slowly freed his lungs, tried the air. 
One short gasp and the full force of afterdeath, streaming 
in viscid flow from the adipose substance of the dead, 
tightened like a vise about his middle and threw him to the 

With lips clenched he thought the borders of purgatory 
must be like this, and hunted for those bones which were 
driest, for he knew that when the bones were utterly clean 
Ucita's people gathered them into the house with the owl 
on its roof, the owl with the red bead eyes. He found a 
tree and sat down by it, burying his face in his arms, and 
waited for the retching to cease. He must have dozed, for 
when he looked up it was dark. A slight wind was at his 
back and the air had blown almost clean. Across the yard 
he could see the glow of the expiring fire which had burned 
at the foot of the child's coffin. Not trusting the wind, he 
held his breath and brought away on a piece of bark enough 
live coals to make a fire of his own. This was a serious 
business, his fire, for in this coastal country when the sun 
went under, the air grew chill and damp. He had awakened 
shivering. He fed the coals with moss and twigs and blew 
them into a blaze. He broke off dead limbs, picked up what 
down wood he could find and soon had the flames leaping. 
He warmed himself on all sides. Once through the yellow 
swerving light he thought he saw the coffins shift and swell. 
He smiled at this, so much better did he feel now that he 
was warmed and cheered. He was even beginning to have 
some liking for what he had to do. He was alone, in a dis- 
agreeable place, but he was alone and that was something 
he had not known for months. Sleeping in the round lodge 
with Indians of all ages and sexes where the air was never 
free of smoke nor the room of smells, he had not realized 

ortiz's mass : 83 

how much he had missed the privacy of Christendom. Even 
in the woods gathering sticks he had felt eyes spying from 
behind every bush, and in the town the Indians went freely 
about and strangers would walk into a dwelling as if they 
were come to their own house with an "I am come." And 
the only reply, "Good, you are come." They would leave 
as suddenly. "I go now." "What, you go?" 

But when the fire fell into its coals and the night settled 
thick and close about, to guard the dead did not seem so 
good a thing. He reached into his pouch and took out the 
sabbia and rubbed it vertically over his eyes; then horizon- 
tally. This would help him, she had said, to see the wolves 
and other scavengers who were now his enemies. Yet it 
was not the wolves but the lids of his eyes which troubled 
him. They grew rough and dry and his head rolled heavy as 
a stone. It was a long straining to keep awake. At first he 
had been able to follow the sharp soft snap of a twig, hear 
the soft pads, he thought he could hear them, as the animal 
trotted away. Perhaps it was a fox or a mink, or even a rat. 
And once he had seen shining the still eyes of a cat. Many 
of the grandfathers of Ucita's people are out tonight, he 
said softly to himself, but I shall waste no darts on them 
or else I shall have to pay forfeit to their kin. But the time 
came when he no longer heard. The time came when there 
was no time, only the heavy slow effort of the will to stiffen 
his neck and shake out the heavy fog which settled over his 
eyes, which blew thick and slow through his eyes, into his 
head, weighting it, pulling it down, down, and a down . . . 
down . . . 

Dominus vobiscum 
Et cum spiritu tuo 
Oremus . . . 

84 : ortiz's mass 

He sat up, his eyes all awake and his heart beating: it 
was broad light. Voices wailed, low and then high. He leapt 
to his feet and in a glance took in the coffins. They were 
all intact. Where the child lay, two women sat before it 
wailing. Their white mulberry bark mantles they had drawn 
over their heads. He could not see who they were. Obvi- 
ously the child's mother and grandmother or two old aunts. 
He wondered if they had seen him lying asleep by the dead 
fire. If they had, they would surely report it. Perhaps their 
grief had saved him. His luck rather. Suddenly he remem- 
bered that malevolent look on Ucita's face and knew why 
he had set him to watching the dead. The cacique had fore- 
seen the trap of the long vigil, that almost irresistible drowsi- 
ness that comes to all who watch without relief, that comes 
just before dawn. 

Carefully he walked towards the women. They did not 
hear him approach. Overnight, he repeated it, overnight 
he had come to walk like an Indian. He moved into the 
sound of their voices. "Why did you leave us, Little One? 
Did your bow not please you, the one your uncle gave you 
to make war on the rats and flies?" The woman paused as 
though listening for an answer and the older one's wails 
fell into a low, an almost voiceless moan. The woman con- 
tinued, "Did your playboys displease you? Perhaps you feared 
the gartooth's scratch? It was but to make you manly. The 
Dog-cacique told you he would not kill you. Had you not 
enough to eat? Long did I let you suck — Why did you leave 

Very quietly he slipped away and when he came near 
the town, he washed in the stream four times and then went 
to the sofki pot to eat, without fear of polluting the holy 
fire. Afterwards he lay down on a skin. He lay under a 

ortiz's mass : 85 

great water oak, and the hanging moss stirred the gray air 
over his face. He had thought to sleep all day and prepare 
himself for the night's vigil, but sleep he could not. To 
stretch at his ease without any to bother him was so great 
a freedom that he lay in a kind of stimulated doze, awake 
and yet with all the ease of sleep. The old women no longer 
abused him and the old men, the young warriors, saluted 
him respectfully and called him Ispani. He knew he was 
still a slave but at last he had a name. Idly he thought that 
to be free among Christians is to have a place, but to be 
free among Indians you must have a name and a name must 
be won. You must bring in hair or do some great feat on 
the hunt or pass the examinations set by the Knowers and 
learn to read the secrets of nature. None of these proofs 
did he have to his credit and yet they had given him a 
name. The fighter receives his after he shows the scalp. 
What had he, Ortiz, shown? Nothing, for to move among 
dangers is not enough with Indians. And then it came to 
him: they had given him a name because they considered 
him as one lost, and bravely lost. 

Accept, O Holy Father, Almighty and Eternal God, this 
unspotted Host which I, Thine unworthy servant, offer unto 

Back in the burial ground towards the close of day, his 
hours of rest, unrest, gone, for who is cunning enough to 
forfend the many ghosts that wander the caverns of the 
wilderness or upside down walk the roads most used by men, 
wandering in search of their substantial kin, crying blood 
for blood that they may travel west; or when their own 
kin fail them, take blood, any blood, to speed them on their 

86 : ortiz's mass 

way to the land of the Breath-Holder. This was what the 
Indians were thinking when they called him Ispani. Nor 
did they forget that he must watch in darkness when wolves 
see and man is blind. 

— grant that by the Mystery of this water and wine . . . 

He heaped wood onto his fire. This night he would not 
fall asleep, nor any other night. Ucita should not pay off 
his score with him. It would be hard at first but in time he 
would learn to turn night into day. He would escape. The 
chance would come. There was the cacique of the Moco^os. 
He had asked for him. The two tribes were at peace but 
they would not always be at peace. Some fine day a boy 
would covet to sit with the men or he would ask a girl to 
lie with him and she would jeer and say she was unworthy 
to lie with one who has brought in so much hair. And the 
boy would hide where the Mococo people went to fish and get 
his hair. And the path would run red. Then he would get 
his chance. Until then he must wait and keep his watch. 

We offer unto Thee, O Lord, the chalice of salvation . . . 

Waiting would not be too bad. A man could be put to 
hard measures and still find life bearable. It would be more 
than bearable if he could persuade the girl to lie with him. 
She had made it plain that she had saved him for this very 
purpose. The cacique had thwarted them by setting him 
down among the women, but that was over. Nothing now 
stood in the way but his occupation. Just how that inter- 
fered he was uncertain. She probably feared to follow him 
into so many known and unknown dangers. Perhaps it 

ortiz's mass : 87 

was taboo in a burial place. He must find out. Certainly the 
odor of corruption did not make for love. But there were 
other ways, there must be other ways. The days were long 
and the woods deep, but how the nights would pass if she 
would spend them with him, if not actually here, then close 
by, near enough for him to be at hand if anything should 
go amiss. There was a fine retreat near the spring, where 
the moss made of the ground a bed, deep and soft and 
cool . . . 

He rose from before the fire lighter than a deer. Out of 
the darkness she came walking towards him. Everywhere 
it was dark but she walked in an even light. And then he 
was beside her, close enough to touch but he did not touch 
her. He called her name yet no sound came from his lips. 
He reached to draw her to him but without moving she 
evaded him, smiling and shaking her head. Not now, she 
seemed to say. When we have passed the dangers on our 
way, but not now. She took his hand and they began to 
walk up the air. Strange, he thought, that one can walk the 
air, and yet it is no different from a path. He could have 
fled had he known. She was smiling and holding his hand. 
She was smiling when they reached a broad way strewn with 
stones shining of milky light. Why, this is the spirits' road, 
he said and she replied, Yes, of course. Then I must be . . . 
You are, she replied. 

How easy it is to die in Heathendom, he thought. No 
purgatory, no hell, no sins to account for. Only to travel 
without tiring, without hunger or thirst, across the sky 
to the land of the Breath-Holder. What is it like in that 
land, he thought. Lacking breath, he had only to think to 
speak and she, thinking, replied, It is a warm pleasant coun- 
try where maize grows all the year and springs never dry 

88 : ortiz's mass 

up. In that land the nuts drop of their own accord near 
the cracking stone, the bear jars overflow with grease, and 
on the fire pots of sofki and venison forever simmer, for in 
any moon the hunter may hunt knowing he shall never 
lack for game. 

It's a good land, he said. Let us make haste. 

— There are no red towns but all are white and the 
people dance and play ball and feast without interruption, 
and that place which the fighter has loved most on earth 
he shall find again and raise his lodge. 

— Let us be off. 

/ have loved, O Lord, the beauty of Thy house and the 
place where Thy glory dwelleth. 

She had scarcely ceased to speak when the broad way they 
were travelling ran into a body of water. As far as he could 
see there was nothing but water, and his heart fell within 
him. Not one piragua lay on its bank. 

This is the first danger, she said. If a woman has sold 
herself to a man and then sleeps with another, even though 
her ears are not cropped or her nose cut off, the water will 
not part for her. And if a man has spilled his own blood, 
he must swim, if he can swim it. 

I have killed no man, he replied, and looked hard at the 
girl. She returned his look. 

Like others, she said, I have had my pleasure at the time 
of the busk dances, but to no man have I sold my freedom, 
to no man until now. 

Without pausing she walked down upon the water and 
he followed her. Before his eyes the water parted to right 
and left and the path of milky stones rolled through it. 

ortiz's mass : 89 

The winds blew down and stood up like mounds of dirt, 
and they passed through without hurt. 

But I have walked in my innocence; redeem me and have 

The path rose through curving hills, the ways grew rough 
and full of stones, and the stones made caves. In these caves 
and along the ledges before them he saw where tribes of 
snakes had raised their towns. And on the path they danced 
and rolled the chunghe stone. Some shook their rattles, the 
big bull snakes beat the drum and around the fire, coiling 
and uncoiling, the Highland Moccasins danced the death 
dance. Slowly and cautiously they raised their heads and 
struck the air, and out of the rocks there came a noise as 
of a thousand pots hissing and singing. 

Let us find some other way, he said to the girl. We cannot 
pass here. 

There is no other way, she replied and pulled baksha 
branches, wrapping them close about his body. These will 
stop their fangs, she added and took his hand and led him 
through the stamping ground, and as they passed the fangs 
struck the baksha like hail. 

The priest turned to the people: 
Orate, fratres . . . 

They climbed to the top of a mountain, a mountain so 
high that, standing on its very top, they could see the under- 
side of the sky. Below lay a plain and beyond another moun- 
tain. There our journey ends, she said, where the sky ends. 
Between those two peaks we leave the path, passing out 

90 : ortiz's mass 

under the sky to the land we seek, but first we must over- 
come two other dangers. 

What are they? 

Without replying she led the way down into the plain. 
As they approached, he could hear from afar the whoops 
of death and the noise of men fighting. At the foot the path 
curved about a rock so high the sun never reached its base 
and, as he went around it, he could smell, rising from the 
slimy floor, the odor of the dead. 

Let us hurry on, he said and, stooping beneath an escarp- 
ment, came out of the mountain onto the plain. She was 
beside him. He heard her say: Take this pipe and blow 
the smoke, first to the north, then to the east, and to the 
south, lastly towards the west where we go. 

But he did not hear, watching the battle as it moved from 
side to side across the valley's floor. From above the valley 
had seemed a wide plain, but now he saw it for what it 
was, a basin with neither inlet nor egress except by way 
of the mountain they had come down and the one yet to 
climb. Eagerly he looked towards the last barrier, but it 
lay hidden in mist. And as he looked, the battle spread out 
before him. At the same instant he saw it in part and as 
a whole: each Indian who behind a tree pulled his bow, 
each separately and all together as they crept through the 
grass; each insult and whoop of defiance; each axe that fell 
and split a skull; each knife that took its hair — and those 
farthest away seemed of a size with those who fought near 
by. In between the two parties lay the path they must 
travel and over it the arrows so sped that they made a 
flickering darkness, and so fast the air whistled one shrill 
never-ceasing moan. And out of this clearly he heard a bell 
ringing three times and a voice saying Sanctus, Sanctus, 

ortiz's mass : 91 

Who are these who fight and never die? he asked. 

— They are those who walk the path without pipe or 
tobacco. Outcasts. Hunters and fighters who have died with- 
out proper burial. 

— And must they fight forever thus? 

She nodded her head. — Once struck by an arrow you 
may never leave this plain. But take this pipe and smoke 
it as I have directed and we shall pass invisibly by. 

Very carefully he blew the smoke to the north, to the 
east, the south, the west and, as the smoke rose and dis- 
appeared, the sound of fighting died away, the warriors 
vanished, and the path ran unblocked over the stilled grass 
to the forest which circled the mountain at the other end 
of the basin. 

We may now walk without fear, she said. 

Be mindful, O Lord, of thy servant, Ortiz . . . 

— Be mindful of your step, Ispani, as you climb. All our 
dangers are past but one and that one you alone must 

— What is it? 

— You will see. 

He did not press her further, for suddenly he began to 
shiver. This chill is strange, he thought, and then he saw 
that frost lay heavy on the ground. The forest stood out in 
a clear cold light, bare of leaves. Brown shrivelled clusters 
hung in scattered patches to the oaks. The bark was tight 
and gray and dead. The sun fell to the ground in broad 
slick strips. Tree shadows lay athwart the strips flat and 
black and sharply lined. Where am I, he wondered, that 
a glance may bring winter where all was green and pleasant? 

Hurry on, she said. 

92 : ortiz's mass 

Walking faster, he came out of the forest to the foot of 
the mountain. Ice covered the path. A frozen river winding 
among the blue-white slopes fell motionless into a gorge. 
Out of the gorge a wind blew, driving the snow, piling it 
in heaps, and bringing to the upper air an endless blizzard. 

— So this is the danger each faces alone, with no mantle 
to cover us, no sticks for a fire. 

— Not yet. Climb. 

— Climb to our death. 

The dead cannot die; climb, she said and, speeding before 
him, disappeared into a flurry of snow. 

Wait, he called and leapt after her. 

Almost losing but never quite losing her, he followed 
running up the frozen path. The snow blinded his eyes, 
his feet drew tight with pain. They burned, they throbbed, 
they lost all feeling. He ran clumsily like a man in heavy 
shoes. He ran until he came to a place swept by winds. The 
ground turned soft. Not ten paces away he saw the girl. 
Bent slightly forward, she pulled along the path. Her hair 
and the most of her skirt stood out behind her, streaming 
through the air. As he watched, she jerked forward and 
stopped and the hair settled about her shoulders. She mo- 
tioned to him and he came up beside her. The wind fell 
away, the air grew mild and all about them the sides of 
the mountain turned yellow green, buds swelled on the 
trees and underfoot strange herbs were in flower. 

How is this? he asked. 

Big winter, little winter and the wind moon ... all 
have we passed. Now we are come to the planting moon. 
Look before you, she said. 

He looked and saw that the mountain was no longer 
steep but sloped gently upwards into summer. From tender 

ortiz's mass : 93 

shoots to the full-grown stalks fields of maize followed the 
slopes. In the distance thunder storms passed, twisting and 
shaking the fields. In the very distance there was the brown 
look of drought. 

There are still other moons, she said. The mulberry, the 
blackberry, the big ripening moon, and after them the black 
water and the whip-poor-will. There are many moons but 
only the four sacred seasons. Of all things they are the last. 

Then all now is simple, he said. 

— You carry your darts? 

He held them up. 

— Then let us be on our way. 

Into winter, out of it; into, out of, spring; through sum- 
mer, summer's heat, summer the ripening time, out of it 
and into autumn. And at last they came to a place where 
no seasons were. Time they had left where the path began. 
Now they stood in No-place, the last station. All the way 
they had walked, through every danger but the last, out 
of time, out of the seasons, out of space. They saw the sun's 
bed, where he slept with the moon. They saw night and 

There, she cried. 

— Where? 

— There. 

Two stones no taller than a man enclosed a passage. On 
either side the sky came down. Straining his eyes, he saw 
at the passage end a point of light, clear and bright and of 
such a blue that it struck pain at the back of his head. 

Now, she said. 

— Now? 

— Throw well your darts, or we are lost. 

As she spoke, down the passage a great wind rushed. 

94 : ortiz's mass 

Strike this with a dart? he shouted, but the words blew 
back into his mouth ... he was being sucked towards the 
entrance, the point of light went out, he stumbled and fell 
to his knees; then darkness bolted from the mouth of the 
cave. It passed over him and pinned his back to the ground. 
It screamed as it passed and overhead he heard a noise as 
of the mainsails of a ship popping in a storm. 

Up, before it dives, she cried. 

Then he saw the eagle curving on the air, its wings out- 
spread and its talons drawn up against the smooth white 
breast. From the tip of each tail feather hung the hair of 
a hundred scalps. The bird soared like a thing of down, 
curved into a spiral, and for one long instant held itself 
poised in space; then it reached down its open beak, folded 
its wings and, like a ball, dropped from the sky. 

He sighted along the dart, flung it. With a side sweep 
the bird caught the shaft in its beak and broke it. 

Too soon, the girl cried. 

He waited until he saw the two small nostrils in the beak. 
He raised his arm and let the last dart fly. It went straight 
and upward. The eagle screamed and caught itself in its 

Now run for the cave, she shouted. 

— Where is it? 

Here! Here! 

A dull heavy thud struck and the dark fell between them. 
Where? he shouted. Where? returned his voice, high and 
strained, and then he felt himself standing alone in a vast 
silence, then in a tight, close, too familiar place. His body 
was taut, his arm raised, and his hand clasping the darts. 
At his feet spread a soft red glow. Even before he looked, 
he knew that he had leapt up out of a dream before the 

ortiz's mass : 95 

ashes of his fire and in that instant he received the full 
impact of the world. And then out of the woods beyond 
the burial ground he heard a thing being dragged through 
the brush, haltingly, unresisting. . . . 

He did not wait to think but ran where the corpse of 
the child rested on its frame. The frame was empty. The 
overturned coffin lay on the ground. He turned it over with 
his foot — it was empty. His body was cold and running 
with sweat. He held his breath and listened. No sound. 
Perhaps he had never heard it. Perhaps he had heard it 
in his dreaming and, like his voice, it had persisted into 
consciousness. There was no time to lose. Quickly, instinc- 
tively, he entered the woods. Creeping, listening, alert and 
calm, he moved swiftly through the undergrowth, and yet 
carefully he broke apart the brush and set his foot down 
as though he stalked the unquiet ghost of the dead. The 
night air was cool and heavy. He had gone a short distance 
when, cooler, heavier, throat-stopping, the odor familiar 
above all others drifted across his path. The trail was now 
plain. He followed it. 

The priest spread his hands over the oblation. 

His foot came to sand and scattering palmettos. His nose 
gave him warning and then his ears. Somewhere to the front 
he heard a crunching and suddenly a low growl. He stiffened. 
Near the ground, within casting distance, the darkness shifted. 
It shifted in silence. As he waited, his eyes explored the dis- 
tance, measuring, isolating. . . . The darkness moved again, 
the crunching began again. Slowly he raised his arm: the dart 
swished, the blood rushed to his ears. He heard no muffled 
growl, no slipping away, but his hand was salty. He threw 

96 : ortiz's mass 

again. The second dart went wide of its aim, and he realized 
the spot of darkness which had been his target had vanished 
into the general darkness the moment the first dart left his 
hand. Suddenly he was shaking, all his nerve gone; yet he 
forced himself, unarmed as he was, to stumble about the 
palmettos hunting what he feared to find and yet must find. 
Suppose he had not struck the beast? Suppose it was lying in 
wait, wounded and cornered? Had it done away with the 
corpse of the child? Had the corpse, even, been stolen while 
he slept and he now pursued some other beast? 

Chilled and disheartened, empty of courage, he returned to 
the burial yard. He threw twigs and sticks on the fire, and it 
popped and blazed. He looked at the flames, leaping with 
cheer and warmth. They brought him no comfort. And then 
before the heat the scars on his back began to twinge and 
draw. With a start he drew away. Slowly, as a man turns upon 
his doom, he turned to the fire. His gaze was still fixed upon 
it long after the flames had fallen away when, hours later, the 
dawn came and time returned quietly to the forest. So was 
he standing when he heard the Indians file into the burial 

Take and eat ye of this, for this is My Body. 
The bell rang three times and the priest, kneeling, adored 
the Sacred Host and, rising, elevated it before the altar. 

He waited for the discovery, waited, waited ... a woman 
cried out in a high shrill wail. . . . 

Take and drink ye all of this, for this is the Chalice of My 
Blood of the new and eternal Testament. . . . 

The bell rang, the priest knelt and, rising, elevated the 

ortiz's mass : 97 

In a moment they would see him standing apart . . . 

Striking his breast and raising his voice, the priest: 
To us sinners also . . . 

They seized him and led him, bound, before Ucita. They 
did not tie him when they brought him to the slave post. His 
two guards, Big-Handsome-Child and Two-Fell-Together, 
motioned to him to sit down and they sat on either side of 
him. He took this to mean that at least he would not be con- 
demned until the scouts who had been sent on the trail of the 
missing body returned. Ucita would want to deliver him up 
to the frame. Such had been his plan in giving him the bone 
yard watch. But the Indians would hold a council on him 
and even Ucita would not go against its expressed judgment. 
At least it was not customary, but then he was not sure 
whether a custom had been established in a case such as his. 
Big-Handsome-Child and Two-Fell-Together belonged to the 
White Deer hasomi. This was encouraging. If his death had 
been predetermined, they would have put guards of the Fish 
hasomi over him, since the mother of the child belonged to 
the Fish people. 

Holding the Sacred Host, three times the priest made the 
sign of the Cross over the Chalice — three hours of agony — 
and twice away from it — the flesh and spirit are parted. The 
Host and the Chalice are slightly raised: 

It is ended. 

The Indians were gathering before the long council house. 
They entered according to rank. First Ucita with Him-Who- 
Leads-the-Cacique-by-the-Hand on one side and Mococo- 

98 : ortiz's mass 

Killer, the war leader, on the other. After them the beloved 
old men. Their flesh was like rotting wood, and the bracelets 
of fish teeth and pearls hung loose on their arms, but they 
held themselves erect and walked slowly up to the open 
piazza where gradually they faded into the cool shadows of the 
house. Then came the inihama, the second men. They passed 
through the town yard, haughtily, indifferently; then more 
quickly the ibitano and after them, the toponole. He saw them 
all out of the corner of his eye, for decorum ordered that he 
must show no interest in anything that bore upon his dan- 
gerous position. 

Father . . . Thy will be done. 

Over the Chalice hovered the body of Christ. The priest 
broke it and, holding the fragment in his hand, three times 
made the sign; then the fragment fell: the blood and the 
flesh were joined. 

May this mixture and consecration of the body and blood of 
our Lord Jesus Christ be to us that receive it eternal life. 

He must show no fear, either now or at the time of judging. 
Nor too much insolence. Insolence on the part of a prisoner 
is expectation of death. His guards would be watching to 
report his slightest movement. Even though they sat with 
averted heads, he was not fooled. He must show the same 
supposed indifference. 

Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world, have 
mercy on us. 

Outcries announced the return of the scouts. They filed 
across the yard towards the long house. What did they carry? 

ortiz's mass : 99 

If only he could look. He could feel the tension of his guards 
and hear the low sounds of the Indians who were not allowed 
in council. And then he listened to the slow beat of his heart. 

/ will take the bread of Heaven and call upon the name of 
the Lord. 

He was standing. The guards pressed his arms against their 
bodies. He walked between them. The bear grease on their 
bodies was hot and slick. On the piazza two beloved old 
women were brewing cassena. One fanned the fire with 
turkey feathers. The other stirred the drink with a gourd 
until the dark liquid frothed, and out of the handle he heard 
the talk of the brew. He passed with his guards into the 
house. Lord, I am not worthy. . . . Ucita's skull-like face con- 
fronted him from the royal bed, impassive under its perpetual 
grin. Arranged according to their castes the Indians sat in 
council. He felt their eyes upon him as he moved between 
the beds, but his own he kept at Ucita's feet. And then when 
they had reached a certain distance, Big-Handsome-Child 
and Two-Fell-Together raised their hands twice to their 
faces, saying, Hah, he, hah, hah, hah! From all the beds came 
the response, Hah, Hah! And then his guards went to the 
warriors' bed, and he was left alone. He did not move, or 
move his eyes. The silence grew. 

To his lips the priest raised the Bread of Angels, laid it 
upon his tongue. And drank of the precious Blood. It was no 
longer the priest who lived. Jesus Christ lived in him. 

Ucita pointed to the floor. Slowly he dropped his eyes. 
There at his feet lay a wolf and out of its breast, running 

100 : ortiz's mass 

along the gray sandy floor, was the handle of the dart. He 
took in his breath and held it. 

At last Ucita spoke. "The little child is found and not far 
away the thief is found — dead." From all the beds came grunts 
of approval. He almost dared to hope. Behind him he heard 
a low humming, and a Waiter, bowing and singing in a low 
tone, went by him to Ucita, holding before him the conch 
shell of cassena. Ucita took it and drank and the Waiter sang, 
and when his breath was out, Ucita lowered the shell and 
handed it to the first councillor. The Waiter sang as before. 
As it passed from mouth to mouth, Ucita broke into a sweat 
and with great composure leaned over to vomit, spewing the 
liquid onto the floor at his feet. When all the first and second 
men had drunk, the Waiter came to him. 

His hand shook as he reached for the shell. He drank deep 
of the bitter stuff. 

May Thy Body, O Lord, which I have received, and Thy 
Blood which I have drunk, cleave to my bowels; and grant 
that no stain of sin may remain in me . . . 

He began to sweat, a nausea seized him. He leaned over and 
the warm bitter liquid spewed out of his mouth. 

Ite missa est. 

There was the murmur of a great throng moving and a 
voice said, "You may rise now. It is over." And then he felt a 
jerk at his arm. He turned his head, his eyes focused. De Soto 
was smiling and his hand was on his sleeve. "You live again 
as a Christian, Senor. Among Christians." 





uncertainty. Our ignorance was the hope of the gambler; 
our uncertainty the Indian's guile. We had advanced from 
our base, San Miguel, four days towards the mountains. 
Four days and we were still unsure of ourselves and the 
future. Nobody knew the state of Pizarro's mind, not even 
his brothers. It was common knowledge that he was never 
ready with a decision, and yet when forced he always managed 
to reach what proved to be a wise course of action. Generally 
he watched the brew of circumstance like a witch and let its 
smell tell him what to do. This was no longer possible. The 
progress of the little army's advance was such that all acts 
must be as quick and bold as the decision Pizarro, as Gover- 
nor and General, had made at San Miguel, or all was lost. 

104 : alchemy 

I said four days. My statement may mislead you. We were 
four marches from San Miguel up the valley of the Piura, 
and it was always up that we marched. We were traveling in 
those low hills which from the coastal desert look as high as 
any mountain does in Spain but no more than broken ground 
before the bare and repulsive Cordillera supplanting the 
earth behind them. And so you must not think that it was 
that last bit of marching our army did — one hundred and 
seventy-seven men in all: sixty-seven cavalry, twenty cross- 
bowmen, and three arquebusiers — which was responsible for 
our state of mind. We had been in Peru over five months. 

We had been in that strange land over five months, and the 
golden empire of the Inca was as elusive as the day we landed 
in Tumbez. Tumbez ... I cannot now speak that name with- 
out feeling quicksilver in my blood. It was the gateway to 
that fabulous, that unbelievable kingdom. Do I say fabulous? 
In the first marching, before de Soto arrived with his two 
boatloads of recruits, it was that word which bore up our 
spirits. The first stretch of coast was low and tropical. The 
Indians screamed like cats, they were filthy of habits and 
given over to the abominable crime. Nothing did we find in 
that province but misery and suffering. It was so poor, the 
Inca for jest levied upon it a tribute of lice. By day the 
sun and the hot planets drew the heat from the ground until 
it hung like vapor among the high places of the forest. 
Through this the soldiers marched as through steam, suffo- 
cating in their armor, often hungry, always weary and finding 
no more treasure after the first lucky raid on Coaque. In the 
night the moon and the cold planets took precedence, and on 
earth those who had cursed the heat huddled together in the 
chill of the long watches. "You will be free of this in Tum- 
bez," Pizarro said. 

alchemy : 105 

A new and strange disease consumed us like rotten sheep. 
It fell suddenly, like the wrath of God. It knocked the lancer 
from the saddle, dropped the foot to the sands, or it fell 
quietly in the night while the army slept, so that by morning 
the sick were too weak to lift hand to mouth. It came as a 
swelling on the face and head, or like warts on the body, the 
color of ripe figs, about the bigness of figs, hanging from a 
string and flowing with quantities of blood. For seven months 
the army lay stricken. I speak now of the time before the 
actual landing. All the while Pizarro went from man to man, 
and even before the open grave he brought his hollow cheer. 
"These afflictions," he said, "will serve for jest at Tumbez." 

To the island of Puna we moved and waited for de Soto's 
arrival. The Indians there held mortal feud with those of the 
mainland and were anxious to assist us. I will not recount 
our difficulties or our waning hope, or finally how the Indians 
rebelled, for at last de Soto arrived with the men of Nicaragua. 
Very quickly we got ready to cross over to Tumbez. The 
horses were put on the ships and the men who could not be 
embarked followed on the rafts of the country, ferried by the 
Indians. The Indians appeared friendly, but as the rafts 
neared the shore, where the waves break, they tore them 
apart and tumbled the Christians into the sea. Many were lost 
and all the baggage. Still others were taken to an island and 
murdered. But Tumbez was ours. It fell after a brisk fight. 
It fell — a pile of ruins. Not that we made the ruins. We found 
it so. The fortress, the temple, and several buildings stood, but 
they were empty and badly damaged. I found my charger 
and rode through the vacant streets asking the way to the 
Governor. Everywhere men were scattered, looking angrily 
for treasure among the fallen walls. 

When it was learned what had happened to the rafts and 

106 : alchemy 

that the town was only a shell, there was such great sorrow 
it was a marvelous thing to see. Soldiers heaped maledictions 
on Pizarro for leading them, lost men, into remote lands with 
so sparse a population, and they cursed Coaque for its mislead- 
ing riches. In the midst of this confusion I found Pizarro 
in the plaza, among a group of officers. 

He sat his horse, his gaunt figure slouched in the saddle and 
on his head a wide-brimmed hat shading his eyes. The animal 
was throwing its head from side to side and whinnying at a 
small group of Indians being driven by in chains. I saluted 

Pizarro's oldest brother Hernando was speaking. "The city 
of gold," he said and his clumsy seat made his sarcasm the 
heavier, ''a temple to the sun, rising in pyramids, painted in 
brilliant hues, housing treasure of uncounted worth. A con- 
vent for the Chosen Women near by. The Virgins of the Sun. 
A house full of virgins. Think of it, Sefiores. Think of it, for 
you will never see it." He threw his insolent head towards 
Pedro de Candia, the Greek knight, who as ambassador on the 
former expedition had described the splendors of Tumbez. 
The knight made no answer. He knew and we all knew the 
Pizarro pride, how it was matched only by the brothers' 
poverty. Whatever Hernando Pizarro thought, his pride 
would not allow him to abuse the Governor, but his poverty 
had been long. 

"Not one," he continued, "but for all a virgin. Not the 
raddled meat of Panama, but fresh and tender cuts." He 
laughed shortly. "And behind those convent walls where we 
were to take our pleasure — correct me, Senor, if I misquote 
you — behind the walls, in the gardens as we lounged, these 
very virgins would come dancing to flutes twisting like silver 
snakes, their hair hanging to their shoulders, their faces, 

alchemy : 107 

hands, and paps, to be sure the paps, exceeding smooth and of 
goodly proportions, as beautiful as the Dryads whereof the 
antiquities speak so much." 

There was noise and movement everywhere about us, but 
we were silent and the air taut. I looked towards de Candia. 
His face was white and splotched. And then at Pizarro's 
brother. He had a lip which when it pleased him, and it 
pleased him often, could twist like a fat and vicious worm. 
Of the four brothers he alone was legitimate. "As they danced 
for us," he continued, "if we grew tired of so much alluring 
motion, we might feast our eyes upon the gardens. They were 
no common gardens but gardens whose fruits were fashioned 
of the precious metals. You saw the artisans make these pretty 
herbs, did you not, Sefior?" 

Pedro de Candia kicked his mount and rode away. The 
silence was now complete. Very softly, in the voice one uses 
to placate an angry woman, the Governor said, "Brother, 
your tongue will be your undoing." 

"If we are not undone already." 

"No, Brother," — the voice, still smooth and placating, grew 
more distant — "we are not undone." As an afterthought he 
added, "But there is something amiss here." 

I knew what he meant. In fighting among the barbarous 
nations the good soldier acquires a sense which warns of 
danger or whispers direction in moments of doubt. Men who 
lack this sense, I've noticed, perish in the Indies. 

And then de Soto spoke. "I've gone over the fort. It is a fine 
piece of engineering." 

All turned to him respectfully, as the captain of the men 
from Nicaragua. Pizarro grew attentive. "Yes?" he asked. 

"It has three walls, or rather one wall which winds three 
times about its central keep. The foundation stones weigh 

108 : alchemy 

tons." He paused to make sure this was understood. His small 
black eyes narrowed intelligently. He continued, "They are 
laid without mortar and fitted so nicely together that a 
woman's skewer may not enter the joints." 

"Well, Captain?" Hernando asked impatiently. 

De Soto smiled. "Do you see any quarries or beasts of bur- 

"There are the mountains." 

"But many leagues away." 

"Well, what of it?" 

De Soto looked directly toward him. "How," he asked, 
"were these stones brought here without beasts and how put 
together with so much skill?" 

"Perhaps the air of Peru makes them lecherous and they 

There was a moment of silence. The Governor turned his 
head and I saw the eyes from under the flopping hat seek 
de Soto's. "Yes, how did they come to be on this sandy shore?" 

The Governor asked the question and then looked at each 
of his captains separately. 

I can remember no feeling of surprise. It seems strange to 
me now that I had no feeling of surprise. Often enough I 
have known Indians to appear out of nothing. Many times 
I have looked up from the camp fire and found them squat- 
ting before it. How they came I never knew nor asked. Silence 
is of their very nature. Perhaps this was the reason I did not 
see the Indian cross the plaza and appear, unheralded, within 
our circle. Or perhaps it was our preoccupation with the 
Legitimate's bitter attack on Pedro de Candia and the 
mysterious implications of de Soto's comment. At any rate, 
unseen by us, the Indian had crossed the plaza and stood 

alchemy : 109 

just out of reach of the horses. He wore a loose flowing robe 
of cotton stuff, dyed in alternating stripes of brown and gold, 
of the richest and brightest threads I had ever seen. He wore 
sandals of grass and in his ears two silver plugs, while about 
his head and fringed under the chin he had wound a silken 
scarf. The silk had a sheen not found in Christendom. Very 
simply the man said he had come in peace. He did not want 
to flee, for he knew what a thing war was. There had been 
war in Cuzco. And further it seemed to him that we were 
such fighters none could resist us. At the end he begged that 
his house be spared. 

The Governor lowered his lance and made the sign of the 
Cross in the dirt of the plaza. "Tell him," he said to the 
interpreter, "to make this sign over his door." The Governor 
turned to Rodrigo Nunez who gave out the rations. "Take 
nothing where you find the Cross," he said. 

How shy and cunning is Fortune. Her waywardness is not 
the least of God's mysteries. Pizarro had seen in this Indian 
only the means of bringing the people back to Tumbez. The 
captains saw nothing but the soldiers' common business. I 
confess my sight was no better than theirs. And yet from this 
Indian's mouth had come all we wanted to know. He gave us 
the key to our fortune, the pattern of our action, the entire 
set of fatal happenings among the Incas which would allow 
us to fulfill our various destinies. And not one heart beat one 
beat faster. Not one of us, who all were Fortune's constant 
suitors, suspected the irony of her gesture. 

So for the time being the name of Cuzco lapsed in our 
minds and we turned our efforts to rounding up the Indians 
of Tumbez. It soon became apparent that the valley could not 
be pacified until Chile Masa, the curaca of the town, had been 
found. De Soto was sent in pursuit. He tracked the curaca to 

110 : alchemy 

the mountains, not too high nor difficult for horse, and there 
surrounded and took him. De Soto did not return at once but 
explored the country farther on. I mention this, a matter of 
no importance now, to show the morale at camp. The inti- 
mates of Pizarro accused de Soto and the men of Nicaragua of 
rebellious thoughts, and indeed I was disgusted with Pizarro's 
rule. His only virtue seemed a sullen and stubborn demand 
on Fortune, waiting, as he seemed to do, loutishly on her 
favor and showing above the straggly beard along the straight 
and lecherous mouth the appetite of an emperor. I was 
disgusted. Perhaps it was treason, but I thought how the land 
could be better pacified by . . . my captain. 

When we came into camp with Chile Masa, my mind was 
so clouded with these thoughts that they did not allow me to 
see that a second time our way was being shown, and so 
plainly shown that an old sheep herder might see it. In the 
questioning of Chile Masa the Governor asked after Morillo 
and Bocanegra, the two men he had left behind him for spies 
on that voyage when he learned of the supposed riches of 
Tumbez. The curaca replied that Morillo died of the plague 
— I imagine the rope was his plague — and Bocanegra had 
been carried to Cuzco at the command of Huayna Capac, the 
Sapa Inca. There again that name of Cuzco. Instinctively 
Pizarro fixed upon it. What is Cuzco? he asked. Is it the place 
where the lord of the world dwelt. And was it rich? It had 
many people and vessels of gold and silver and things inlaid 
with the sacred metals. And where was it? The curaca turned 
his head towards the mountains. The size of little sand away, 
he said. 

"And this Huayna Capac," Pizarro asked, "rules at Cuzco?" 
The second Indian boy taken to Spain to learn the lan- 
guage, Filipillo by name and a scoundrel, undertook to trans- 

alchemy : 111 

late the curaca's words. He stumbled over the sense, but it 
was clear that the great Huayna Capac was dead. His beauti- 
fully burning heart he had bequeathed to Quito, that 
conquered province which he loved so well and where he 
spent his later years, but his body sat in state at Cuzco with 
all his illustrious predecessors who keep the house of their 
father, the Sun. To his favorite and bastard son, Atahualpa, 
the child of the daughter of the last Scyri of Quito, he gave 
the province of Quito. 

"Who rules then at Cuzco?" the Governor asked. 

"His first born, Huascar," the Indian replied, "rules there 
over all the provinces of the old kingdom. After the death 
of their father the brothers lived for a while at peace, but they 
grew jealous of each other and now each fights to see who 
will take the place of the dead one." 

This information Pizarro spread throughout the army, but 
his men said, "It is a stratagem of the Governor's." And so 
in disbelief and with low spirits the army received its orders 
to march. 

To the south of Tumbez the desert begins. About twelve 
leagues wide it lies between the mountains and the sea. A 
waste of sand and rock, it is the domain of death and silence, a 
silence broken near its frayed shore by the scream of water 
birds and the bark of sea lions. Over this desert we began our 

We had found a road. It ran in a perfect line to the south, 
marked out of the sand by stones. As the army set out, the 
men made an effort to sing their battle songs, but their voices 
made the silence more grim and after the first sweat they gave 
it up, ceasing even to jest or complain. Strict orders were 
given to spare the water. The road led somewhere, but we 
had no true knowledge of distances nor of what we would 

112 : alchemy 

find. There was an all-too-common feeling that the Indians 
had tricked us to a dry death. The first night we camped be- 
neath great drifts of sand curving like scimitars over the 
plain. In the distance we could hear the steady break of the 
sea. The waste of the sea, the waste of the sands, the moun- 
tains, the great waste of the unknown — into these we had 

The next day it was the same. Not once did that road bend 
or turn. I thought of the Holy Empire over which our 
Catholic sovereign is lord, with its borders lying uneasy 
against the lands of the infidels, how all its kingdoms and 
principalities for lack of good roads lie as remote from one 
another as though divided by water. And then hour by hour 
as I rode along, following this smooth and direct route, I 
asked myself what must these heathen be to outdo Christen- 
dom and bind their provinces so well together. I looked 
towards the mountains where we were told they dwelt, and 
suddenly they seemed more present, more threatening than 
the famished sands. By the third day I had ceased to reflect. 
We had put leagues behind us. We had pushed and were 
pushing our march steadily; yet to the left the mountains 
stood in the exact position as on our setting out; the same sea 
beat upon the same shoreline, the gray scimitars curved along 
the swallowing plain, the same road reached always before 
until, narrowing to a point, it lanced the horizon. Then I 
heard a voice saying, This is no road. It is a treadmill, and 
you are caught on its turning. I crossed myself. In that voice 
I recognized the enemy of man. 

Without warning we walked into the green fields of 
Poechos. We held a mass of Thanksgiving and then took 
possession. From here we overran Parina, Tangarala, Piura, 
and the Chira valley. These valleys on the banks of mountain 

alchemy : 113 

rivers were heavily peopled. There was food and water 
a-plenty, but little gold. Everywhere we sent foraging details 
we found the ground intelligently worked. At regular dis- 
tances water from the streams was turned into the fields under 
laws regulating its distribution. Where it gave out or sank 
uselessly into the sand, areas of the desert had been excavated 
and sunken gardens built up in circular terraces. The Indians 
added fish heads and the droppings of the bird called guano, 
so that where nature had left all barren or poor, herbs 
blossomed and had their season. 

Tribute of food and personal service was laid upon the 
inhabitants, a measure that worked for the glory of God 
and brought the heathen to a knowledge of the true faith. 
And were we Moriscos to make our own bread? Soon the 
Governor began building a town in Piura. He called it San 
Miguel in honor of that saint who had brought him such 
timely help in the fight with the islanders of Puna. This was 
all very well and it gave us a base for operations, but Pizarro 
seemed in no hurry to pursue the information gathered at 

And then a thing happened to open up a little farther our 
way. A courier arrived from the outpost in the upper Piura, 
saying the Indians had revolted. De Soto was sent to restore 
order, which he did after a battle. Two curacas, Cango and 
Icotu, came in and yielded obedience. On our way to San 
Miguel with the prisoners, passing through maize fields in 
the lower Piura, we heard the sound of drums. We halted 
and presently women came dancing in a slow solemn step out 
of an alley between the rows of grain. The drums were low 
and had the sad beat which a loose skin makes. Others came 
after them, dancing and singing, turning and stamping with 
a man's garments in their arms. One held a headpiece adorned 

114 : alchemy 

with feathers of gold so fine they trembled with every mo- 
ment. One bore a bronze javelin and wooden buckler, another 
a sheaf of bronze-tipped arrows. Still others followed without 
anything in their hands but dressed in gay apparel and with 
silver plugs in their under lips. Last of all were the old women, 
bearing jars of chica on their backs — it is a drink these people 
brew from their maize. The old women turned slowly, lifting 
and setting down their feet in the dust, barely lifting them 
so that the dust ran like mud. They passed us by and made a 
circle at an open place near the summer house of the farm, 
and there all set in to wailing, stopping short altogether, like 
the running out of a piece. After this they sat down and drank 
from the jugs, and then one after the other they stood up 
and spoke. When each had finished, she drank again from the 
jug and her companions drank with her. 

We had had our first sight of precious ornaments and de 
Soto turned and asked Cango, "What do they do?" 

"They weep at the places where the dead one liked to 

When he said no more, de Soto asked again, "Who was this 

The curaca hesitated, then said, "A great warrior killed in 
the brothers' war." 

We had had some such information of fighting, but here was 
visible evidence, evidence of the greatest possible importance. 
De Soto said casually, "Which of the brothers triumphed?" 


"Huascar is now sole Inca?" 

De Soto had to repeat the question and then Cango told 
how Atahualpa was taken but escaped in the night, saying 
Inti, his father, had set him free. With them Inti means sun. 
Then he told how Atahualpa returned later with fresh troops 

alchemy : 115 

under his generals Quizquiz and Challicuchima, burned the 
city of Tomebamba and put all to the sword, although the old 
men of the city came out and prostrated themselves, begging 
mercy. Tarrying near Caxas, he received the news that his 
two generals had fought a battle on the plain near Cuzco, 
routing Huascar's army and taking the Inca prisoner. The 
Inca was now confined somewhere in the mountains and his 
brother now wore the royal llautu. 

"Where," de Soto asked quickly, "in the mountains?" 

The curaca would say no more. 'Til put a little fire to his 
feet," Juan Pizarro said. 

"There is a better way," de Soto replied and turned upon 
Icotu and asked if he, de Soto, looked to be such a fool as to 
believe that the lone province of Quito could annihilate all 
the forces of Tawa-ntin-suyo. That is what they call their 
country, the four corners of the world. The ruse worked, for 
Icotu, not to be outdone, began to speak. It was his opinion, 
he said, that Huascar was undone because the people of 
Collao, who are great warriors, did not assemble in time, 
although he had heard that Huascar had fallen because he was 
too grave and would never let himself be seen by his people, 
nor did he ever come out to eat in the plaza, as was the 
custom. And it was known that he had threatened to bury the 
dead, since they had all that was best in the land. 

"How is this," de Soto scoffed, "the dead more mighty than 
the living? Can the dead throw a dart or give the whoop of 

The strange lord did not understand, Icotu replied. The 
dead kept their palaces and all the service they had in life — 
their plate, their golden ornaments, and all their trappings. 
Nor could those who served them be relieved of attendance. 
Provinces were set aside for their keep, so that it happened 

116 : alchemy 

when a new lord entered on his rule he had to get his own 
servants and eat from vessels of wood and clay until gold was 
mined and artisans fashioned articles of use and pleasure for 
his person, and for his dwelling. Each dead lord had a steward 
who understood the speech of the dead. If the dead wished 
to eat or drink or desired to divert himself in the house 
of the other dead or in the great plaza at Cuzco, he made his 
wish known and it was done as in life. Because the greater 
part of the people, the treasure and feasting was theirs, 
Huascar threatened to have them buried. 

"And where did you say this Huascar was confined?" de 
Soto asked carelessly. 

Before either Icotu or Cango could speak, a little man with 
the great chest of the mountains and ears split by golden 
discs larger than double ducats turned angrily upon the 
curacas. I noticed that he wore his hair as if on a comb and 
around his forehead he had a fillet, black and frinsred to his 
eyes. "What do you, speaking of the affairs of your lord?" 
he asked. At this the curacas grew silent, nor could they 
be made to say more. 

We had learned three things: first, of a town called Caxas 
which must be on the way to Cuzco; second, that Atahualpa 
had triumphed over his brother; and third, that the custom 
of maintaining the state of dead rulers, with all their posses- 
sions and attendants, made of Cuzco a respository of treasure 
never heard of even in the halls of the Turk. The words 
of the Indians rang true, and I was sure that they had spoken 
of things they would never have uttered save from the con- 
fusion they felt over the civil war. But there was one disturb- 
ing element. Would we have to face this Atahualpa, strong 
in victory? Where indeed was he? The Indians had been 

alchemy : 117 

vague, as equally vague as to the whereabouts of the im- 
prisoned Huascar. 

Pizarro listened to de Soto's report, saw the gold ornaments 
taken from the little man and the two curacas, and said noth- 
ing. We all thought he would order the advance at once, but 
he settled into a state of apathy. It seemed almost that his 
courage left him, once the evidence of the thing he had pur- 
sued so many years grew plain. At least now we had more 
to go on than rumor. Of course the Indians had to be 
thoroughly reduced and all the lands divided, but he took 
no steps to hurry these matters to a conclusion. His inde- 
cision gave doubts as to his belief in our evidence. 

In this state of uncertainty we lived for some weeks; then 
one day without warning he assembled the small army in the 
plaza of the town and caused all the trifles of gold and silver to 
be piled in a heap. He asked us to lend our shares to send back 
to Panama to speed up the arrival of supplies and reenforce- 
ments which had been left in the hands of his companion in 
the conquest, Almagro. He promised to pay us back, and 
perfumed to boot, for on the morrow the army would set out 
for Atahualpa's court. 

And so it happened that in September 1532 we left San 
Miguel behind, crossed the Piura, and struck for the heart of 
the Inca kingdom, or what we took to be its heart. At Zarran, a 
town in the low mountains, the Governor divided the army, 
taking part with him to explore the Sechura desert to the 
south and sending the rest under de Soto to Caxas with orders 
for the whole body to reunite at Zarran within the week. I 
followed de Soto. 

Caxas lay in a pocket of foothills. We reached it by a rough 
but man-made road which wound along the bare slopes. Just 
over the crest we saw the town. It was no mean place, built 

118 : alchemy 

against a mountain wall for economy's sake, for the bottom 
of the valley was all in maize, potatoes, and other strange 
herbs. We hesitated in the sudden surprise of the place and 
then rode down upon it. As we drew near, we found the gar- 
rison drawn up to receive us. The Inca's army, if army there 
was, could be greatly exaggerated; but the Indians drawn 
up across our path showed too much order for comfort. They 
were very gay in their colored quilted armor, bright head- 
pieces and bucklers painted in a lightning design of blues and 
reds. There must have been a hundred of them, formed in 
companies of a sort, which meant tactics of a sort. There were 
javelin throwers, men with slings, battle-axes, and squads of 
men with short bronze swords. On the flanks the bowmen 
stood proudly at ease. They looked much better disciplined 
than our own foot which, to speak the truth, were a sad lot, 
men desperate enough for any adventure, too desperate almost 
for use. It was not our policy to shed blood if we could help it. 
Our very lives might depend upon how we left things in our 
rear. With this in mind de Soto sent the interpreter forward 
with words of peace. 

Not until that moment did I notice the gallows and the 
four Indians hanging by their heels. I had been too busy 
estimating the strength and temper of the garrison. At first 
the sight gave me no feeling of death, although the faces were 
stiff and swollen. Perhaps it was the dark skins and the quiet 
immobility of their swinging. I thought instead of mummies, 
and to think of mummies is never to think on death. The 
mummy has no estate, either being or non-being. It is out- 
cast in time. 

There was a movement in the Indian ranks. The ranks 
divided and I saw a man of authority come toward us. He was 
well attended, his tread slow and stately, and his carriage 

alchemy : 119 

so perfect that the parrot feathers barely trembled in the 
socket of his head dress. He stopped a few paces from us — we 
had advanced as far as the gallows — and said without pause, 
''What do you want? Where are you going? Do you come in 
peace or war?" 

"Peace," de Soto said, "food, and a way to the royal camp." 

The Indian listened gravely while this was being translated 
and replied that our requests should be answered. At the end 
of his talk he thrust his staff toward the scaffold. 

"Watch out!" a voice cried out. 

The Indian looked angrily at the lancer. His attendants 
murmured excitedly. 

"Who spoke?" de Soto asked sharply. 

"I meant nothing, Captain. But if he jars the corpses, the 
eyes will pop out." 

I looked more closely at the bodies. The eyes of the dead 
did bulge in their sockets, and they looked at the sky and their 
necks had frozen in the strain of looking. The balls clung to 
the bare edge of the rims, as though thrown into a spasm by 
the sight of some unendurable horror. They had bled a little 
at the noses, their mouths were shut against the disintegrating 
air, pariahs' mouths which found poisonous all that once 
had been sweet and familiar. But there was one whose mouth 
was open in full surrender and through its dark trough two 
rat-like teeth protruded, mocking the leer of depravity. 

And then I turned away. The Indian lord was speaking of 
their crime, for de Soto had cleverly explained the soldier's 
shout as a request to know why the men hung. One, the 
Indian said, had stolen into the house of the Chosen Women. 
The other three had connived at the sacrilege. It was worse 
than sacrilege and could never have happened but for the 
brothers' war, since the virgins given to the Sun were also 

120 : alchemy 

brides of the Inca and reserved for his couch alone. So heinous 
was the crime that the Indian dared speak of it only in low 
tones and with his eyes cast down. At the end he pointed his 
staff again at the bodies and regarded us in haughty disdain. 

"To take what is forbidden is death," he said. 

I did not attend him. A light breeze had risen. It moved 
the folds of the soft cotton breechclout covering the loins of 
the dead. As I looked at the cloth, so fresh and clean, washed 
that morning perhaps to bind the living flesh ... as I looked, 
I thought how we all, heathen and Christian alike, stand 
forever in peril of our secret needs. Then, but not until then, 
did I feel in the presence of death . . . and thp fear of death. 

"Where does Atahualpa lie?" de Soto was asking. 

The Indian looked straight before him. "The lord of the 
earth lies at Caxamalca," he said after a pause. "He delights in 
the baths of that place." 

I didn't like the pause. It looked rather too much as if he 
was throwing us off the scent, for would a prince fighting for 
his life and throne take time to pleasure himself in the 
luxuries of the bath? 

"And where is Caxamalca?" de Soto was quietly persistent. 

The Indian turned and pointed to a gloomy peak rising 
above a mass of sterile dirt and stone which, though leagues 
away, stood up straight before us. Wherever we looked, it 
rolled, one vast terrestrial billow, topless and endless. I 
thought I saw a flash of triumph in the Indian's eye. It may 
have been imagination, for, as I turned back, he waited as 
before, without expression but silent and I knew watchful. 
De Soto gave him two hawk's bells and dismissed him. He 
showed no delight in the gifts, but the attendants rang them 
all the way into Caxas. They laughed as they rang them. It 
was not a pretty laugh to hear. 

alchemy : 121 

We still had nothing certain to go on. Always we heard of 
Atahualpa, but each time he was farther away. With this in 
mind de Soto determined to question the man further, 
especially after he learned that he was an officer of the Crown 
come to Caxas to collect tribute. Dressed in full armor, de 
Soto waited for his arrival, seated on a mattress which softened 
the stone shelf at the back of the room he occupied. It was 
late afternoon and tapers were lit, for the room was already 
in shadow. From outside there came the clank of harness 
and the gruff voices of the detail who had been sent to fetch 
the tax gatherer. And then the curtain hanging at the en- 
trance was pushed aside by brown fingers. Slick and round, 
tapering to the long sharp nails, they looked like the claws of 
a bird . . . the Indian was inside, standing before the curtain. 

De Soto motioned him to a stool. A servant brought two 
bowls of chica. With his right hand he offered the Indian 
drink. For de Soto he reserved the left hand. "Our guest is of 
greater rank than we thought," he said laconically. We drank 
in silence and after the proper interval de Soto put aside his 

"Atahualpa is now undisputed lord of the realm?" 

The Indian lowered his eyelids. The Sapa Inca ruled the 
four corners of the world. De Soto changed the question to 
that of gold. Was there much of it in the land? He pointed to 
the ring on his finger. When Inti the Sun and Mamaquilla the 
Moon made the earth, they worked hard and sweated much. 
This sweat sank into the ground, and that of Inti made gold 
and that of Mamaquilla hardened into silver, but it was not 
given to their servants to know how much. Only the child of 
the Sun might gather it for his use. How then did it happen, 
de Soto asked quickly, that the honorable tax gatherer had 
gold about his person, if only the Inca might use it? The man 

122 : alchemy 

replied without pause that by blood he was of the House of 
the Sun and that when his illustrious kinsman deigned to 
show favor he made presents. Did the Inca ever make presents 
to the curacas of the towns? The Indian turned his head and 
spat upon the ground. Rarely were the eyes of these conquered 
chiefs blessed by sight of the Inca. It was the custom to take 
them to Cuzco, teach them the court language, but only so 
far were they favored. They were then sent back to their 
former seats to rule as vassals. Their sons and gods were kept 
in Cuzco as hostages. Only the clans of the blood were honored 
with the power of the realm. Descendants of former Incas, 
they were set above all and from their number the priests, 
the governors of the four provinces, the generals of the armies 
were taken. 

As de Soto asked question after question, I could see he was 
convinced that we had to do with no set of scattered tribes. 
Plainly Pizarro was taking us into dangers never before en- 
countered in the Indies. But there was honor and perhaps 
profit in carrying her Ladyship's banner so far into heathen- 

De Soto had the man plied with chica and while he drank 
I saw him look at our chests. De Soto saw his interest and 
turned a key in the locks. This seemed to please him and he 
took the key and locked and unlocked all the chests several 
times. We found amusement in such toys? he asked. De Soto 
explained it was a way we had of guarding our treasure. When 
the Indian understood the necessity for this, his manner 
suddenly changed. He grew reserved and haughty. I was puz- 
zled for I thought the art of our smiths would amaze him. 
De Soto pressed him to say what he thought of their skill. 
He rolled his eyes, swelled his lungs with air, and let it out 
contemptously through his nostrils. 

alchemy : 123 

"Surely your people must be the wash of the sea," he said. 
"The weed of the sea clings to your chins. You not only steal 
from others but you steal from yourselves." 

With that he rose to go. I took up my sword to beat him for 
his insolence but de Soto motioned me to my seat and very 
softly asked were there no thieves in Peru. 

I don't think he would have answered, but he saw me take 
up my sword and remembered where he was. He was just 
drunk enough to show his pride and contempt for us. I was 
certain he was drunk when he spoke, for he assumed a mock 
judicial air. "To steal a man's woman is death. A judge who 
takes gifts steals truth. For him there is death." 

"But if a man steals because he is hungry?" de Soto asked. 

He was a long time silent, as if such a possibility was beyond 
his experience. At last he spoke. "A man who is hungry must 
eat. If he lack food and take it, the curaca of his village will be 

"But if the crops of the village failed?" 

He shook his head. "In Tawa-ntin-suyo one may not go 
without. On the day set apart the Sapa Inca, in cloth of gold, 
attended by his court, goes out to the royal fields of Cuzco. 
There he takes a golden plow in his hands and sinks it, stirring 
the plentiful earth. Eight bloods of high degree pull it before 
him. And in the four corners of the world the earth is stirred 
by his people. First, the fields set aside for the Sun. Next, the 
fields of the sick and those away at the wars, and then each 
man turns his own. The farms of the Inca are kept to the last. 
On the day set aside, just as the great condor spreads his 
wings in the east and grasps the Sun in his claw, heralds all 
over the world stand in high places and sound their trumpets 
for the people to gather. Men, their wives, the unmarried, 
dress in their feasting clothes and go down to the fields. They 

124 : alchemy 

are gay and sing of their lord's triumphs and of his virtues as 
they work, and at night they dance and leave the dance only to 
love. When the crops come to harvest they are stored. And 
all other things of use are stored. There can be no lack. If a 
province lose more than its share by war or famine, it is 
balanced by the plenty of other provinces. Already the Quipu 
strings have been tied for the damage you have done in the 
towns of the coast." 

He ceased. Perhaps he thought he had said too much, for 
without asking leave he turned and walked out of the room. 
He moved so easily it was a moment before we could realize 
he had gone. We followed through the door — the cloth still 
swung from his touch, or was it the wind — but he was no- 
where to be seen. He had disappeared into the dark. Even as 
I looked, the sheer mountain walls soaked up their wash of 
color, the greens of the valley fields drank ink and all the 
valley pockets were in shadow, while upon the roofs of Caxas 
the night herons were silently dropping and gathering in their 
wings. I looked up to the high mountain plateaux where the 
great peaks sit. There, against the clouds, the sun was spend- 
ing its last strength. 

"The Paradise of Pleasure," whispered a voice. 

The voice was so low I thought I had been deceived. There 
was no one near except the sentinel. "You spoke?" I asked. 

"The great admiral. . . ." 


"When he saw these mountains from the other ocean, I 
heard him say — I was on watch and it was the turning of the 
tides — he said, Somewhere in those peaks must lie the Paradise 
of Pleasure." 

We were on the right trail but we had not found the way. 
De Soto was not the man to turn back just as the chase got hot; 

alchemy : 125 

so the following morning we set out for Guancabamba at the 
risk of Pizarro's displeasure, as de Soto was exceeding his 
orders and so must delay the army's reunion. There was not 
the most sympathetic accord between de Soto and the Pizarro 
brothers. De Soto had been promised second place, and this 
place had been given to the Legitimate. De Soto kept his 
tongue, and for that very reason the Pizarros grew suspicious, 
as all those who break faith expect no better than they give. 
But, as I say, our captain did not let this stand in the way but 
pushed on to Guancabamba; and there, gentlemen, we found 
it: the great highway which ran between Quito and Cuzco. 
The moment I saw its flat stone surface, the shade trees 
which protected it, and the cool water running in troughs for 
the comfort of the traveler, I knew that we stood upon the 
borders of that which we desired, feared, and from which 
we could never be freed, whether it brought our most ex- 
travagant hopes or our ruin. The road seemed to have no end. 
As far as we scouted, it ran before us, the width of five bodies 
and with houses of shelter every two leagues. We halted at 
one of these huts for water, and just as we drew up, an Indian 
stepped into the road before us. 

He looked at us calmly, nor did our strangeness frighten 
him. He might have been a monster bird who had dropped 
from the sky, for his neck turned in solemn ease and his gown 
of feathers was of so many colors I could not say how they had 
been matched. Two insolent drakes waited on him, but the 
big ears marked him for a man of station. He did not wait to 
be questioned. He addressed us. Instead of translating his 
greeting, Filipillo strutted to the front and asked him what he 
did there. I was amused. The boy had the manner of a 
burgher raised to a post of minor dignity. The Indian pre- 
tended not to hear him. Filipillo stamped his foot and spoke 

126 : alchemy 

again. Slowly Big Ears turned his head and his eyes made 
vacant the place where Filipillo was. "What does he say?" de 
Soto asked. The boy gave no answer but stood trembling with 
anger. De Soto brought his lance across his back. ''Speak, 

The spittle gathered around the boy's mouth, and then he 
answered. "He says are we the strangers with the beards his 
lord Atahualpa has sent him to find?" 

We could not believe our good fortune. Not only had we 
got the direction; we had established actual contact with the 
Inca. At once we turned about, taking the envoy and his at- 
tendants, and made for Zarran. Not until later that day, not 
until two hours after dark in fact, did I grasp the real mean- 
ing of this encounter. Suddenly de Soto reined in his horse. 
There was a moment of confusion in the squadron by his 
abrupt action. It was soon righted and we resumed the march. 

"Mother of God," I asked. "What is it?" 

"I am a fool," de Soto replied. 

"It is to be disputed." 

"Here am I boasting to myself of our good fortune." 

"You will be forgiven." 

"You don't understand." 


"No. It is not we who have found the Inca. He has found 

The full importance of what de Soto had grasped did not 
strike me until after Pizarro's meeting with the Apoo. So was 
he called in the Quechua tongue. Pizarro received him in a 
white velvet cloak, white shoes, and a broad white hat of 
felt. In such fashion did the great Gonzalvo use to dress in 
Italy and Pizarro liked to think himself a pupil of that soldier. 
The Indian servants set down the Inca's gifts; two stone 

alchemy : 127 

fountains carved like fortresses, two shirts of vicuna wool em- 
broidered in gold and silver, and a jar of dry and powdered 
goose flesh. The Apoo put his hand into the jar and threw 
some of the powder on Pizarro's shoulders and then he pow- 
dered his own. He sniffed the air and smiled. The smile 
vanished and he stood aloof and waiting. Pizarro examined 
each of his gifts. The shirts were finer than anything we had 
seen on the coast, good enough for the back of a king, but 
Pizarro did not let the Apoo see what he was thinking. With- 
out hurrying, he handed the gifts to his page and, pausing, 
inquired of the Apoo if there was any message from his lord. 

The Apoo wore the same black band I had seen several 
times before. The fringe hung low to the brows. It was no 
mere ornament — a mark of rank, I was sure, perhaps even 
more than that. As I watched, I saw that it made his face stand 
out like an idol's, open yet discreet, surprising the secrets of 
others, hiding its own. The fringe trembled and the envoy 

"The Inca Atahualpa, lord of the world, asks what the 
strangers who have left their town such a great way off want 
in his land." 

Too quickly and with too much deference Pizarro an- 
swered. "Tell your lord that his victories have made it my 
fondest wish to see him. I am now on my way to offer my poor 
services in his wars." 

Filipillo finished interpreting Pizarro's answer. Pizarro 
waited with slightly inclined head. He waited beyond dignity. 
At last the Apoo spoke a sentence which seemed no more than 
a word — "Atahualpa waits for you in the mountains." 

To end the pause which each moment grew more awkward 
Pizarro ordered his page to bring toys for the Indians and 
then had him shown through the camp. The Apoo was curious 

128 : alchemy 

but unimpressed, and yet he asked shrewd questions. He 
stopped before a lancer and felt him all over, thumped the 
linked mail, and jerked his beard. This final impertinence 
was more than the Christian could bear. He took the Apoo 
by the scruff of the neck and soundly beat him with his sword. 
The Indian did not linger after this. He left us with a swing- 
ing stride. It was no time before he and the serving men had 
disappeared through the steep and turning pass. As long as he 
was in sight, I watched and did not think. But the moment 
he was hidden, I saw those long and even strides moving 
steadily, surely, softly away. 

"So, he awaits us in the mountains." 

The voice broke the silence. It was Alcantara, Pizarro's 
brother on his mother's side. There was no response. The men 
stood about in scattered groups. They shifted restlessly. In 
studied idleness Juan Pizarro drew his sword and very care- 
fully, as though his fingers might dull its edge, took the point 
and bent it. It leaped and slapped the air, hummed like a 
single angry bee, then shuddered into stillness. He took his 
neckpiece and tossed it from him. The blade flashed and the 
cloth, in two parts, settled slowly to the ground. He leaned 
over and picked them up. "I would have cut his throat," he 

Pizarro turned like a man shaking off a heavy sleep, and I 
saw that a profound change had come over him. It was appar- 
ent at once that what we, his officers, and what he, the Captain 
General, felt about the Apoo's visit had nothing in common. 
Obviously the Apoo was a spy. Obviously he was contemptu- 
ous of our small force, and it was plain that the Christians 
believed at last in the Inca's existence and in his power. It 
was plainer still that they did not like that waiting in the 
mountains. These were all practical and important considera- 

alchemy : 129 

tions. But Pizarro had not only not sensed any of this informa- 
tion which military prudence, of necessity, should have made 
him consider; he had not considered it at all. Or so I felt. He 
said, briefly, "Break camp. I long to meet this Senor Ata- 
hualpa." Now that I remember, he spoke like a man who 
repeats another's command. 

Within the hour we were under way, but the spurt of 
energy did not last. The army advanced at a slow pace, with 
the lack of will men show who look upon a beloved land 
they are forever leaving. At Motupe, for no reason, we delayed 
four days. I thought at first that Pizarro had reflected and de- 
cided to wait for Almagro who was long overdue. We could 
afford to wait now that we knew our objective. Indeed caution 
was perhaps our boldest strategy. But at the end of this time, 
without explanation, we took up our march. 

We went southeast towards the gap we hoped to find in the 
mountain chain. The nearer we approached the more sober 
grew the faces of the men. There was no open expression of 
what they were thinking, yet there was a holding back and 
complaints, especially that the horses were curiously weak. 
De Soto's page came to him with the talk of pikemen who said 
that as soon as night fell, and it comes suddenly in that coun- 
try, the dark congealed and took wing. Another reported that 
he had seen something as large as a dove flying low to the 
ground. It skimmed by his ears and yet there was no stirring 
of the air or whistling of wings. I was prepared to believe 
strange and unnatural things, but not that the dark could take 
wing and fly. I decided that I had over-estimated the army's 
courage. But when men whose hardihood I knew shook their 
heads and spoke of blood clots on their chargers, I began to 
listen. They did not lie. There were small, very small blotches 

130 : alchemy 

on the neck and withers of the horses. I went with this to de 
Soto and he set me over the first watch. 

That night I made hourly inspection and lingered at the 
corrals. As far as I could tell, all was well. The animals stood 
quietly in their halters, the mounted watch made its rounds. 
I found nothing amiss with the foot guard. They were at their 
posts in pairs, feeling the dark with their eyes, or listening 
with that puzzled expression an officer comes to know as a 
veteran watch. At the changing I went to my tent and lay 
down. At what hour I awoke I can't say, but it seemed the 
deepest part of the night. I woke up all over. The air felt taut. 
I began to imagine that while I slept some monstrous spider 
had shuffled its hairy legs along the dark and of the dark had 
spun out the invisible and treacherous glue of its web. And 
then I noticed the man next me turning restlessly in his 
sleep. Very carefully I shifted my eyes along his body. 

His feet stuck out of his cloak. One of them turned and 
twisted like a thing apart from its leg. As I watched, it kicked 
free of what I had taken for a shadow until I saw the clumsy 
spread of the wings. They hovered a moment; then settled 
back down over the bare gray flesh. The foot no longer re- 
sisted. Without breathing, almost without moving, I reached 
for my cloak. And then, gathering myself together, I fell with 
the cloak upon it. The man swung up. His hand reached for 
his sword. I breathed, "Make a light." 

The thing fought and scratched. The cloak was tightly 
woven, but the thing cut through the cloth and caught a 
finger. My dagger was ready. I stabbed well, for it screeched, 
and then slowly the little knives withdrew from my finger, 
smoothly and without pain. My companion held the torch 
as I lifted the cloak. There lay the creature, its ragged wings 
drawn tight to its body, with an undershot jaw, short cropped 

alchemy : 131 

ears, and a broad leaf-shaped mouth. The mouth was open, 
and for teeth it had four little blades on opposite sides that 
worked together like scissors. "Let's cut him open," I said. 
My companion made no answer but breathed hard as I laid 
back the hide and flesh. It was very tough. Very carefully 
I went into the stomach. From its pocket fresh blood ran out, 
"Yours," I said. The man blasphemed and then turned to 
vomit. I touched the walls of the stomach. They were thin 
and weak, like a sponge. 

"The blood-sucking bat." 

At the bottom of its stomach I found three slimy, half- 
digested clots. I tumbled them onto the ground. 

"The God-damned blood-sucking bat," he whispered. 

Before puchero news of this adventure was known to every 
man in camp. It brought to a head the army's discontent and 
men used it to hide the true cause for their fears. After pu- 
chero Pizarro called us together. He did not line us up in 
military formation. We met like a village meeting at home, 
the men of station naturally withdrawn somewhat to them- 
selves. Pizarro walked out of his tent alone. Usually his broth- 
ers were about him, and even now they lingered near, but 
he made the impression he wanted to make, of acting alone. 
He stood close to the men and began without preliminaries. 

"I've called you together to say this." His voice was pleas- 
ant, even conversational. "Any man who is afraid to go on 
has my permission to turn back." 

I looked at Pizarro and I looked at the men. They stood in 
groups, uncertain and surprised. The quality of the surprise 
was alarming. It looked too much like relief. The Indies are 
a gamble, but Pizarro was straining his luck. He strained it 
further. "To those who return," he continued, "I'll give the 
same amount of land and vassals apportioned at San Miguel. 

132 : alchemy 

The garrison is weak. I will be glad to have it strengthened." 
He paused and looked straight before him. My respect grew. 
"But," he added and his voice rang, "whoever wants his share 
of the gold I believe is there — " his arm shot out to the finger, 
the finger to the mountains — "step behind me." 

The officers stepped over in a body and grouped themselves 
near Pizarro. The scattered soldiers had not moved. Pizarro 
waited. His manner was faultess: frank, fearless, and confident. 
It must have been seconds, seconds upon which whole lives 
turned, when a sergeant, a small strutting man, stepped 
briskly across the divide and took his place to the right of 
the Governor. He looked truculently at his fellows and stuck 
his lance into the ground. It was a well turned piece. It 
quivered in the light, flawless out of the tree's white heart, 
flawless in workmanship. Its very beauty, I think, must have 
stirred the army's professional pride. Very quickly the men 
gathered around it, until only nine were left on the other side, 
four from the foot and five lancers. A few returned the now 
hostile stare of their former comrades, but the most of them 
kept their eyes uneasily on the ground. One, standing apart, 
could not suffer his isolation. He moved in. A rough and 
contemptuous laugh greeted the poor show of spirit. Hard 
upon the laugh came Pizarro's voice. "I keep my word," he 
said. "Return to the — invalids." Then he gave them his back. 

Those who returned to San Miguel were not alone in their 
fears. Indeed all of us were certain a trap was being laid in 
the mountains. At the foot of the narrow trail we must climb, 
even Pizarro's unreasoning optimism seemed to leave him. 
He waited for the Legitimate to question a curaca taken at the 
last village, when it was perfectly plain that whatever the 
curaca said could in no way be verified or change our plans. 
Perhaps it was the sight of the narrow defile which each man 

alchemy : 133 

must climb alone — it was no more than a shelf worn in the 
abrupt rock wall — that made him pause. At any rate a halt 
was made for the Legitimate to go through with his useless 
business. The men had loosened their cinches and stood about 
in groups or lay quietly on the ground. They no longer had 
any opinions or, if they had, kept them to themselves. I 
watched a few go over their saddles and stirrups again and 
again, or try their swords, or feel the straps of their armor. 
The worst and the best soldiers are often restless when danger 
is certain but its direction unknown. 

The curaca was stripped and tied to four lances. The execu- 
tioner was squatting by the fire turning his irons. Leaning 
forward, with one hand before his face, he pulled out an 
iron and looked at it. "Not yet," he said, frowning slightly. 

The Legitimate thrust forward his whiskered chin. "It will 
do, Senor. Put it to his feet." 

"It is yet too hot," the executioner replied. 

"Nonsense. Go ahead." 

The executioner knelt by the curaca and waited. He said 
distantly, "I understand my trade, Captain Pizarro." 

The Legitimate walked over and planted himself in front 
of the prisoner. The interpreter moved to his side. The execu- 
tioner at last lifted the iron, looked carefully at the film of 
heat spreading and contracting; then, without speaking, he 
ran his hand down the Indian's leg, as gently as if he were 
about to shoe a two year old. "Hold the other foot, "he ordered 
as he grasped the ankle; then, barely disguising his contempt, 
"You may proceed, Captain." 

The Legitimate put one hand on his dagger, one on his 
sword hilt and braced himself. He lowered his head and flung 
his words at the curaca's face. "The Inca thinks he will trap us 

134 : alchemy 

in the mountains. No? He has troops in ambush on this very 
pass. No?" He nodded to the interpreter impatiently. 

The curaca held a deliberate pause before he replied. When 
he spoke, the Christians turned their ears as if they understood 
the Quechua tongue. 

"It is not the Lord Inca's habit to take a man of my station 
into his counsel." 

The executioner did not wait for directions. He pulled 
gently at the ankle. "Come now," he said. "Lift your foot. 
There's no good in being stubborn." He spoke softly; then a 
few more pulls and suddenly he cracked the shin and caught 
the jerking foot between his legs. The hot iron dropped above 
the arch. The brown toes tightened and curled, and a hollow 
came into the instep. 

"Here it is most tender, Captain. It is a waste of time to use 
the red hot iron. It will only burn up the foot. Pain must 
not be too sharp at first. It must have an artful progress. The 
best results are got when the prisoner feels it behind the eyes. 
Now, gently, like this." He rolled the black tool under the 
instep. A damp smoke puffed around the iron. The Indian 
stiffened. The executioner looked away and spat. "I never 
get used to the smell," he said. 

The Legitimate shifted his stance. "There's no need to 
hurt," he said and his voice had the kindness of a wolf. "A 
few words and you go free. But the truth. The flesh is false, 
but the bone speaks true. Must we go to the bone?" 

The interpreter put the threat into the low, plaintive 
Quechua tongue. 

"Translation adds a refinement to my art," the executioner 

I thought it delayed us unnecessarily. We waited for the 
curaca to speak, but he kept his silence. The Legitimate raised 

alchemy : 135 

his hand and again the iron fell and rested upon the flesh. 
The damp smoke sizzled and licked about the darkening sur- 
face. The executioner lifted the tool and turned it over. A 
shred of skin clung to the iron. The Indian's eyes were bright, 
but his mouth kept shut. 

"Again," the Legitimate said. 

As the iron descended the curaca parted his lips, but first 
he lowered his eyes. At last he spoke. "The Inca is curious to 
see your sheep and you. Those with the moss on their chins 
whom he likes he will keep. The rest he will put to death." 

"No element has such virtue as fire," the Legitimate said 
in triumph. 

The executioner walked away and dropped his iron into 
water. It hissed, and a flash of pain passed over the Indian's 

Pizarro had watched the trial with indifference. With 
indifference he heard the confession. Now that it was over he 
called his captains about him. "The path is rough and twist- 
ing. I won't waste time explaining the obvious dangers. De 
Soto will command the wayward. My brother Juan and thirty 
lancers will go with him. My brother Hernando for the rear- 
ward and I go with the battle. You are not to advance in one 
long file. Go in squads at broken distances. Now, let us be off." 

I saw at once I had misjudged what I thought a loss of con- 
fidence. He had allowed the mockery of the trial from policy. 
Whatever the curaca gave out would be better for the morale 
than uncertainty. I watched the thin beard jab briskly and the 
mouth which it could not hide and the hard dullness of the 
eyes. Yes, he hurried into those mountains for more than 
gold, and he was a poor man, for more than the trappings and 
power of high estate, and he had the pride of the east. 

We all paused a moment and said to ourselves, Now it has 

136 : alchemy- 
come. For a moment all eyes were lifted towards the moun- 

"Bare, not a tree, and still. Jesu, they're still," Juan Pizarro 
said and his voice was low. 

It was not so much the stillness. All mountains are still. 
It was the barrenness. De Soto went ahead. Juan and I rode 
close behind. No one of us spoke. There was only the oc- 
casional click as our horses struck their shoes and behind, 
among the thirty, the steady hollow ring of a loose shoe. Here 
and there a few dwarf trees clung to the rocky escarpment. 
As we mounted, the stream sank lower in its gorge. By this 
we judged the distance we had made. And by the horses. After 
some two hours they began to suffer. De Soto increased the 
halts. In the wayward he had changed Pizarro's marching 
order. The thirty rode head to tail where they could. Only he 
and I kept in advance. Juan made the point between. 

But other bleak mountains were still above us, hiding the 
snowy range. And these were yet to climb. At one time the 
path ran at dizzy heights above the torrents which sliced the 
bulking earth; next it took the very streams for its way. Here 
the horses slipped on the loose rocks, but when the water 
rushed darkly through walls of stone almost closing over our 
heads, we dismounted and led them into the chill and sepul- 
chral air. Through one of these half-caverns we passed, a cold 
and shuddering place. Out of the gorge the path rose to wind 
its way to the crest. The ascent now grew slow and more pain- 
ful. After several hours the path turned sharply about a rocky 
bastion. I heard the wind, but I was unprepared. 

Down the gorge it struck like a sheet of Greek fire. My horse 
reared and backed into Juan. There was a perilous moment. 
One hoof kicked the narrow ledge, and from under it a rock 

alchemy : 137 

fell. I watched it drop and disappear into space. Below, on the 
floor of the gorge, the river lay like silver in a mold. I lowered 
my visor, for down the narrow way the wind blew a gale, driv- 
ing sand and splinters of rock before it. My horse pressed 
the wall and trembled. I could not dismount because of my 
harness. I dug the spurs in, and half-creeping and half plung- 
ing we got to a resting place the Indians had made in the 
wall, a place some twenty feet square and lined by stone 
benches. Juan followed me there. I said a paternoster, for it 
was God's will my horse did not stumble. De Soto motioned to 
Juan to hold the lancers and then we dismounted. My face 
smarted and burned inside its prison, and I raised the visor. 
De Soto raised his and our glance met. His face was pinked 
in a hundred places. 

It took some moments to calm the horses, but only a glance 
to estimate the gravity of our position. For several hundred 
paces the path ran with the gorge and then it turned abruptly, 
but whether abruptly up or down I could not tell. I could not 
tell for the wind and my blurred sight. I dropped on my belly, 
de Soto beside me, and slowly opened my eyes. Overhead the 
sand and particles flew by, but hugging the ground I could 
see through my scarf. I saw too well. Where the path turned, 
the opposite face of the chasm, a bulking slant-topped peak, 
almost closed the way; and there the wind sweeping down the 
canyon struck and multiplied its strength, forced by the nar- 
row passage. Just at this point the Incas had built two round 
towers on either side of the trail. They had lookouts, windows 
for defense and in the righthand tower a door opening down 
to the very foundations. 

The walls were sheer and inaccessible, and the one place 
where an attacking party might have got a foothold was faced 
with smooth-cut stones. I cannot say which was greater, my 

138 : alchemy 

admiration for the engineer who had fortified this place or 
my despair. There is much loose talk among soldiers of im- 
pregnable works. The knights of Malta thought they had 
such walls, but the Turk breached them. In the passes of the 
Apennines there is Sforza, and yet it has been known to fall. 
Thus did I talk to stay my courage, for never had cunning 
turned nature to such perfect use. I looked through the win- 
dows and in through the door, but all was still. Too still, for 
the towers could not be empty. I didn't turn to de Soto. 1 
delayed, and when finally I spoke I averted my gaze as men 
do who meet to assist at the rites of the dead. 

"Ten men can stop an army here," I said at last. 

"Well, we can't turn back. We can't leave the horses and 
we can't turn around, and besides we are halfway up." 

"Or halfway down," I replied. 

"We can't stay here." De Soto had a quizzical look, his face 
still set against the wind. The wind blew, whistling and skim- 
ming down between the walls. 

"No," Juan said after a pause, "we can't stay here." 

"We'll risk it," de Soto said with finality. "Juan, go back 
and hold the others. I'm going ahead and see what's up there. 
If I don't come back, push for the towers. If an animal gets 
out of hand, drive him into this place. Tell the lancers not 
to crowd the horses at the turn." 

"Forgive me," I said. 


We had to shout. We sounded as if we were quarreling. 

"You gave me the forward post. I refuse to give it up." 

De Soto looked hard at me and I saw his struggle with his 
pride and then he turned to Juan. "Hold his horse while I 
help him mount." 

It was no easy matter, but we managed. The gelding low- 

alchemy : 139 

ered its head against the stinging air and pawed the ledge. 
Juan turned straight about. In time of peril I never saw a 
better man. Quick and skillful and with the courage to hold 
up his judgment, although his judgment was not always good. 

I watched him in the windy pass, saw the sand strike his 
back plate. It splashed like rain on the bright steel. I gave a 
glance, then tightened the reins and kicked the horse's flanks. 
The gelding went forward with his battle spirit. He set his 
light hoofs down on the shaley path, and I began to breathe 
again. The thick air seemed for a moment sweet. We advanced 
half the distance, and it was all still in the towers. Any mo- 
ment now, I thought. I know the Indian's cunning. The garri- 
son should not have delayed so long. It expected to overwhelm 
a lone man and not waste its magazines. The windows grew 
larger. I strained my eyes yet in the deep wells behind nothing 
stirred. I did not understand until suddenly, looking up the 
steps carved in the rock to the tower's door, I saw just within a 
great stone balanced against the jamb. Move it a little and 
it would come hurtling down the steps. There was but one 
thing to do. Put the gelding into a gallop. Possibly we might 
pass the steps before the stone could roll and bounce us into 
space. We charged up the dizzy path which from the valley 
below did not make a line even on the face of the precipice. 
Above the abyss and level with me two condors dipped their 
wings idly into the air. Leaning inwards, my shoulder scraped 
the wall. I fixed my eye upon the stone. It grew larger. It 
moved, I thought I saw it move. Right up to the door I rode 
and struck it with my lance as I passed. The lance bent — there 
was no sound. The noisy wind had made a calm more constant 
than silence. 

I knew at once the towers were empty, but I climbed the 
steps with care, paused and touched the stone, a foolish 

140 : alchemy 

gesture, and entered. In the gray light I saw magazines of rock 
neatly piled and in a corner a broken arrow. I had the feeling 
of men leaving just before me. I could feel almost the lithe 
dark forms waiting, watching my approach out of their still 
slant eyes, their footsteps fleeing. I had the same feeling at the 
next fort, this time a larger work and one able to maintain 
a long siege, for besides the well-stocked magazines, there was 
water rising out of its covered parade ground; there were 
inner walls, fortified barracks, and granaries from which we 
fed. And behind the rocks for hurling, like sinister shadows 
in the failing light, the dry black llama dung lay in heaps. We 
reached this fort in the late afternoon, and by sundown the 
entire little army was encamped inside. 

The air was dry and light and it gave me a swelling of the 
hands and lips. The horses were so blown I feared for some 
of them. I lay down by a fire of dung to sleep and in the 
privacy of the night tried to understand the Inca's mind. At 
either of these forts he could have stopped an army greater 
than ours. Had he no fear of us? Did he think to draw us 
further into his domain to use or destroy as it might please 
him? Or did we seem so mean he remained indifferent in his 
greatness? Certainly if he feared us, we had never advanced 
so far. Overhead the sky turned a silky black; the stars burned 
out the still and bitter air with instant luster, but no answer 
did they make to my question. But as I watched, they grew 
swollen and fell, burning the black fuel of the night until with 
horror I saw they were no stars but gold tipped arrows driving 
for our heads. I tried to rise, but my armor pinned me to 
the ground. . . . 

I was sitting up stiff with cold. It was dawn. The fires had 
all burned out. My cloak and beard were icy and the scarf 
about my face. A faint stench of stale dung lay upon the 

alchemy : 141 

ground. A few of the soldiers were stirring. Eight or ten old 
sergeants, the rejected of recruiting posts, lacking either an 
arm or an eye and quilted with scars, were moving about 
feeding their horses. They might be half fit for battle, but 
they would reach the field when others failed. I thawed a little 
and climbed the stairs to the rampart and there overlooked 
the brown and desolate ridges we had put behind us. They 
buttressed the high uneven plain. A thin white haze shut off 
the ocean, but the intervening desert, dull and monotonous, 
stretched as far as I could see. Could these be the gates of 

I turned away and saw de Soto rousing up the thirty. In no 
time he had them in the saddle. The crest was in sight but it 
took several hours to reach it, our animals stopping momently 
on the way. Their heaving flanks and distended nostrils told 
us what trouble they had in breathing the rare and frosty air. 
We had barely reached the top when one of the thirty fell 
from his saddle, bleeding at the ears, nose and mouth, and 
from the corners of his eyes. He began to vomit. I felt a slight 
dizziness and when I took off my gloves to help him, the blood 
was oozing from my hands. De Soto ordered a halt until the 
men could get more accustomed to the height. It was not until 
then I lifted my eyes upon the bleak and desolate scene around 
me. But it was not the bleakness that I noticed first. It was 
the awful silence. The men felt it too. They did not speak a 
word but sat gazing, like me, upon the Black Plain. And yet 
it was not a plain. It was an immense plateau holding up 
mountains and valleys, flatlands and dry stream beds. Only in 
front of us did the land run level, but here for many leagues 
it was plain. I call it land, though it resembled nothing we had 
ever seen anywhere before. We had climbed out of the world 
into a vast ash heap. 

142 : alchemy 

Without turning around — I suppose he hesitated to con- 
front the reflection of this waste in the faces of the thirty — 
de Soto gave the command to go forward. After hours of 
riding we passed a troop of gliding llamas with their necks 
proudly curved. They stopped and turned upon us large, in- 
quiring and timid eyes. Nor did they stir until we had all 
gone by, but stood with their suspicious ears thrust forward, 
ready on the instant to flee. Still deeper in we found near a 
marshy spot of ground ten or twelve vicunas grazing a belt of 
light green grass. I rode toward them to get a better look, for 
these were the sacred animals. The buck stamped his foot 
and made a sound, half neigh, half whistle, and they disap- 
peared faster than deer. No other kind of life did we see. We 
were the sole inhabitants in this unpeopled world, and we 
were hurrying on our way. 

Before the midday halt I picked up a speck in the road. I 
had been straining my eyes — it was dangerous to let your at- 
tention wander, the path was so faintly marked in stretches 
— so I thought at first the spot was a trick of fatigue. But I 
flicked my lids and it was still there, not only there but grow- 
ing, not only growing but moving in our direction. For a 
moment I said, It is an animal, and then I realized that no 
animal would keep to the road in such a way. My interest 
quickened. Already we were advancing as fast as we dared 
push the horses; yet the pace increased almost of its own ac- 
cord. And then at one certain moment the little ball exploded 
and I saw a toy man walking in our direction. Now I under- 
stand — indeed I understood it shortly afterwards — that it was 
the air, its rarity, marking out the figure so clearly at such a 
distance which gave me the illusion of magic. But to me then 
and there, wandering in that burnt-out strip of creation, that 
limbo of the bodied world, how else could the air seem but 

alchemy : 143 

At last we met. I think the army had come to a halt. Cer- 
tainly Pizarro had put himself in advance with the standard 
bearer and the interpreter and there received the Apoo who 
advanced with two mugs in his hands, drinking first from one 
and then from the other but always with a deliberate formal- 
ity, the same he used before Pizarro at Zarran when he de- 
livered the Inca's message. He stood erect and, pausing before 
he spoke, said, "The Sapa Inca invites you to drinking and I 
am come to drink in his name." Then he looked at the sky, 
quaffed the liquor in silence and afterwards kissed the air. 
Filling the mug afresh, he offered it to Pizarro with his right 
hand and to the captains with his left, saying "When will you 
reach Caxamalca? The Inca would know when to prepare for 
your reception." 

In Christendom it would have been unseemly for an envoy 
to present his credentials in such a way, but I knew that the 
Indians in matters of state are more ceremonious than the 
Bishop of Rome; and so when he spoke of Atahualpa's power 
and his prowess in war, I listened carefully. The Legitimate 
said, "He's drunk." But he was not drunk. The long speech he 
made was designed to bring us trembling to the Inca's camp. 
Nor did the explicit form the invitation took deceive me. The 
elaborate presentation outdid the occasion. 

Two days later a second envoy arrived. He asked the same 
question: "When will you sit down in Caxamalca?" Whatever 
doubts I might have had were now dispelled. We were in for 
serious trouble, but the credulous army, so wishfully did it 
look for grace, did not interpret the warning until Filipillo 
arrived with stories of bad treatment at the Inca's court. He 
was denied the mighty presence; he was beaten and almost 
killed. He escaped by saying that Pizarro held Atahualpa's 
men hostage for his safety. I think he spoke true, for when 
he saw the respect we showed the envoy, from very jealousy 

144 : alchemy 

he fell upon him with a knife. The Legitimate knocked him 
down, and all the while the envoy kept his composure. Nor 
was Big-Ears ruffled when Pizarro asked how it was the Inca 
treated his man like a churl. Atahualpa, Big Ears replied, had 
withdrawn to fast. No man might view him at such times. 
And was it such a wonder that so scurvy a fellow was denied 
his presence? The wonder was that he only got a beating for 
his insolence. Who could believe that the strange Apoo had 
entrusted his embassy to a varlet? These answers seemed 
plausible — all too plausible. So I was prepared for desperate 
measures but not for what I saw when our little army, having 
put at last the Black Plain behind us, paused on the rim of 
the valley where Caxamalca raised its walls. 

One by one we rode up to the crest of the mountain, and 
one by one fell silent. There below us spread the fairest and 
richest valley I had ever seen, with terraced fields along its 
sides, bottoms shimmering with green young maize, and, 
journeys away but seeming near by, a great mountain of snow, 
and about its top the frozen clouds made it taller than it was. 
So I remember this illusion. I must have seen it at a glance, 
one instant of sight, for there below the Inca had pitched 
his tents. 

A man at arms may show no fear, but there were many 
there that day who but for their armor which laced their 
courage in would have slunk into Caxamalca and begged 
mercy of Atahualpa. The town lay to one side of the valley's 
bowl, like a town the plague has struck. No man nor woman 
nor child moved about its plaza or among the gay-thatched 
roofs. All life had fled to the farther and mottled slope. Where- 
ever the eyes fell, whether upon the patches of yellow, the 
brighter reds, or the rusty llama browns, they failed to reach 
the limits of the Inca's camp. I had the feeling as I shifted my 

alchemy : 145 

gaze from left to right and right to left that my head was a 
magic glass which spun the arrogant tents and pitched them 
where it willed. For could we believe what we saw, not 
thousands but tens of thousands of Indians, as great an army 
as ever our prince took down into Italy, and waiting for our 
... we scarcely numbered hundreds. Out of their midst 
there blew a lazy vapor. It blew out of the ground, out of a 
tiny house that sat alone, keeping at bay all this display of 
barbaric power. At once I knew I looked upon the Inca's 
baths. There Atahualpa took his ease and there, out of the 
indifferent vapors, the fate of Christians blew. 

It seemed for a while that our eyes had murdered the will. 
My wits were as addled as the old hen who found her chicks 
tangled by tow and flax, for I thought not of what to do but 
of what the old writers tell of the two rivers which water the 
land, the Nilus which falls into the sea of Egypt and another 
of that name, but whether nature makes them to spring out of 
the mountains of the moon or of the sun or out of the tops 
of the rough mountains of Ethiopia the ancients do not say. 
Had we stumbled perchance on the land which hides the 
source of the other Nilus? There was a small stream running 
by Caxamalca and I knew that on the other side of these 
mountains there is a river whose gulf falls into the Ocean Sea 
fifty leagues wide and with so swift a course that by the 
violence and greatness of it the sea is driven back for leagues, 
although it is rough and enforced of a contrary wind. And 
they say the water is no way sour but sweet and fresh and able 
to be drunk far out to sea. Did I look upon its source? Did 
these Indians inhabit the mountains of the moon, or of the 
sun? Did any one hear me whisper, Is this Ethiopia? Its 
farthest province where Prester John, through the deep sea 
tunnels, led forth his might? Ata Hualpa? Prester John? 

146 : alchemy 

Pizarro gave a command. He had to repeat it. It was the 
command to descend into the valley. We formed in battle 
order and went down on Caxamalca in three ranks. To the 
right was the wayward. Here the best armed lancers rode and 
the men at arms, for several of us wore full armor. With these 
went de Soto and the Legitimate, dividing the command. To 
the left the battle formed, the pikes out in front, the sword 
and buckler behind them, ready to protect the flanks of the 
solid-moving pikemen or run around them and finish up their 
work. Juan took the rearward, the horsemen riding a la gineta, 
in their short stirrups from which they would rise and give 
an added length and a wider sweep to their swords. With these 
went the three arquebusiers and the crossbowmen guarding 
the single piece of ordnance. Out in front of all rode Pizarro 
and his household, the trumpeters sounding their shrill and 
brassy notes. We all took heart and went along singing Te 
Deum Laudamus. For one moment I caught Pizarro's eye. 
There was the haste in it that a lover has when he reaches 
the end of his journey. 

Armed in form and point of war, we reached the floor of the 
valley. Without stopping we rode down upon the Indian host. 
Without haste or lagging we rode. Each horse's hoof struck the 
ground as though it might rise for the charge, and the trum- 
peter's lips half parted for the trumpet. Then within ten 
crossbow shots we paused, turned, and in full sight of the 
Inca's tents, moved towards Caxamalca. No shout greeted us, 
no hostile sally, but for the full league we went I could feel 
the thousands of Indians passing us from eye to eye. We 
drew up unmolested, unwelcomed, before the gates of Caxa- 
malca. We looked over the low wall into the three-cornered 
plaza. It was empty. No one barred our way. Not even the 

alchemy : 147 

meanest official stood up to greet or forbid us entry. We 
hesitated, listening for some sign of life, but no sound issued 
from the streets or the dwelling places. Desertion and silence 
was Atahualpa's reply to our challenge. 

We continued to hesitate. It was not so much fear of 
ambush. I know that I dismissed the thought, for the Inca 
had turned his whole range of mountains into an ambush. 
And should one so great deal with his enemies like a forest 
chieftain? Why should he not, if it pleased him, empty this 
town of its ten thousand souls for our reception? And had he 
not, taking his ease with his wives, bathing in the perfumed 
waters, bade us climb mountains, struggle with all known 
hardships, and hurry over the Black Plain to put ourselves, 
without the slightest effort on his part, into the very fingers of 
his might? Were we not even then before his very eyes, per- 
forming the last steps in the progress he had willed for us? 
So, I reasoned, it must have seemed to Atahualpa. And so it 
must have seemed to many of us. No, we did not hesitate from 
caution, although scouts were sent into the town before us. 
We paused at those gates for one and only one reason: the air 
of Caxamalca had a fatal smell. 

We made our entry with studied boldness, but as soon as 
the noise of it died away, the silence returned. There is a 
feeling of hunger about a deserted town, and this hunger 
breathed from the houses, hung over the roofs and narrow 
ways, usurped our places in the plaza and said, — You are al- 
ready ghosts to inhabit this place. The scouts returned, all 
with the same report. Everywhere was emptiness, the people 
all gone and the trappings out of the houses, the large gol- 
pons on the western face of the plaza empty, the fort at its 
northern end undefended. Here and there a few old women 

148 : alchemy 

sat in doorways or speechless on mats in the backs of rooms. 
We listened with no surprise. 

"The Inca has strained his hospitality," de Soto said. 

All the while Pizarro was riding restlessly along the third 
side of the plaza, a wall some two thousand paces long. Beyond 
it, in plain view, lay the Indian camp. I heard him call de 
Soto. "Take twenty horse," he said, "and go to the Inca. Say 
that I have come on behalf of God and King to preach to them 
and to have them for friends. Say whatever you will, but — " 
he turned quickly as though if he looked away the Indian host 
might vanish — "make this Atahualpa come to Caxamalca. 
That is your mission. Invite him to dine with me. This after- 
noon or tomorrow. Perhaps the day is too far spent. To- 
morrow. But the Inca must come to Caxamalca." The last 
words Pizarro said slowly and lovingly; then, breaking his 
mood, he looked sharply at his lieutenant to see that he 
understood. Before de Soto could bow his acknowledgment 
of the order, he had dismissed him. 

I was stunned. I knew that Pizarro was not indifferent to 
the risk of placing a tenth of his army, more than a tenth in 
valor, at Atahualpa's mercy. Indifference was inconceivable; 
and yet Pizarro seemed to ignore all danger as one might who 
has full knowledge of the outcome, whose only eagerness 
is to cheat time and pronounce the end. I helped get the 
twenty together and we went at a trot until we neared the 
stream behind which the Inca had pitched his tents. There was 
an osier bridge between us, and on the other side a squadron 
of blackhaired soldiers. Obviously they expected to halt us at 
the stream. 

De Soto saw the moment was upon us. Giving a signal to 
the twenty, he put his barb into a gallop and cleared the 
water. Through the host we rode and Indians gave before 

alchemy : 149 

us, and we made a music as we went, a sweet grim music, with 
bells ringing against the horses' plates, the hilts of our swords 
clattering against steel, and at each saddle bow an extra cut- 
lass clattering. Thus we swept on and thus we reached the 

I say reached the baths. It was rather the great open space 
around them, for the tents of the army did not intrude on the 
imperial presence. We crossed this yard at a walk, for de Soto 
thought it more seemly to approach in such a fashion. The 
interpreter rode at his side. We had scarcely arrived when we 
heard the sound of charging horse behind. It was as though 
the wind had blown back upon us the echo of our own hoof- 
beats. I turned to see the Legitimate arriving with a small 
body of horse. Evidently Pizarro had had a sudden qualm of 
fear when he actually saw how few he had sent among so 
many. The Legitimate rode up and spoke to de Soto. Together 
they rode forward, their lancers at a walk behind them. To 
the front and right, where the steam rose out of the earth in 
clouds, stood a great tank made of cut and fitted stone. "That 
is where the Lord Inca and his wives go to bathe," the in- 
terpreter whispered. "No other person dare enter on pain of 
death. It has two pipes, one hot, one cold, so that the water 
may be tempered for their worshipful skins." 

I nodded, for I was looking at the small house adjoining the 
baths, the flurry — it was no more than that — of guards and 
courtiers standing before its entrance. I noticed other rooms 
evidently built for attendants and, at a respectful distance, 
azure tents set in strict array. "For his hereditary vassals," the 
interpreter said. 

We halted before the entrance of the house. All was calm 
before it. The door was hidden by guards in azure mantles, 
their polished armor of bronze plates showing beneath, their 

150 : alchemy 

legs bare to the blue and white sandals. Their helmets 
mounted like the pope's tiara, except that in place of three 
crowns the sun's rays, in formal pattern, circled, and out of 
their tops, stiff and fragile, parrot feathers curved arrogantly, 
reaching to the thatched roof. All had bucklers but certain 
squads were armed with darts, two to a man, and a peculiar 
sword hung at their sides. But dressed upon the shoulders of 
most lay battle clubs of bronze and stone with star-like heads, 
the radial points sharp and conical. Here and there the points 
alternated with axe blades. 

"The Canari guard," whispered the interpreter. 

In front of the guard the courtiers had arranged themselves, 
standing apart from a haughty figure. He was dressed all in 
spangled yellow, his sandals woven of silver thread with a 
dark blue tongue lapping his shins. Upon his head sat a dress 
shaped like an axe. It had a face carven on it. A sheaf of 
feathers leaned over his eyes and waved slowly as he moved. 
The dress sat so low upon his forehead the feathers seemed to 
sprout from his nose. About his neck ran a gorget of heavy 
gold beads and in his hand he held a staff as black as chocolate 
with loose feathers of the condor's tail in its knob. The staff 
was polished until it made the light run darkly over its 

"Are you the Lord Inca?" de Soto asked. 

"No, no," the interpreter corrected him. "That is Rume- 
navi, old stone eyes." 

I looked more closely at the Indian's face. In one pupil 
a cast had marred his sight until the eyes did seem hard and 
glaring stone. 

"Where then is your Lord?" de Soto demanded. "Where is 

Rumenavi did not answer but glared at horse and rider. 

alchemy : 151 

De Soto knew how to wait, what face it gives among these 
infidels; but Rumenavi strained his patience. He repeated, 
'Tresent me to your lord," and lowered his lance so that its 
point lay directly before the other's eyes. Perhaps this was in- 
discreet, but Rumenavi gave him an answer, a very brief 
answer. The Sapa Inca made his fast. He could not be dis- 
turbed. What did the strangers want? 

"My business is with your master. Go tell him the envoy of 
the Sacred Caesarian Catholic Majesty, Charles, the fifth of 
that name, demands an audience." 

He had scarcely done speaking when the guards withdrew 
from before the house. I had heard no command, but quietly 
and with precision they lined up on either side of the entrance. 
The courtiers prostrated themselves before a heavy curtain 
dyed a rich color, again azure, and hanging across the entire 
front of the house. As I watched, invisible hands took it and 
drew it slowly back. The first thing I saw was a frosty web 
hanging in vacant space, several feet above the floor and 
exactly in the center of the room. As the curtains drew farther 
away, the light entered and the web became a thin white 
gauze. Two hands appeared holding it; two arms appeared 
and then two light-skinned women. Between them, upon a 
low seat covered by a delicate mantle, sat a figure which they 
were shielding. The room was as bare as a cell. 

No one moved. The Indians seemed to be holding their 
breath. And then Rumenavi took off his sandals, put a small 
burden of sticks on his back and, bowing and trembling, ap- 
proached the hidden presence. Averting his gaze, he said a few 
words in a low voice. The silence grew unbearable. I felt the 
need to break it and spurred my horse a little closer. The 
guards moved towards me in a body, tightening their hands 
about their weapons. They grunted altogether and stopped. 

152 : alchemy 

At a command the women had dropped the veil. Atahualpa 
had revealed himself. At last we were in the presence of the 
son of the Sun. 

De Soto waited for some sign from him to make known his 
business, but with his head lowered in contemplation Ata- 
hualpa kept the silence he had made. De Soto's horse reached 
forth its foot and pawed the ground. It shook itself. The furni- 
ture rattled and the bells on its plates tinkled. I knew the 
Inca must be as anxious to see us as we had been to see him, 
but he did not lift his eyes. Yet I thought I saw him glance 
at the animal's hoof. It was Rumenavi who finally asked de 
Soto to state his business. This he did. What he said I do not 
now remember. I remember only his anger. 

His lord, Rumenavi replied, would decide what would be 
done with us after he had ended his fast. De Soto now raised 
his voice and said he would not leave until the Inca gave him 
a plain answer: would he, or would he not, come and dine 
with his, de Soto's, Captain General? 

At last the Inca raised the head bound by the imperial 
llautu. Its fringe reached to his eyes. Each cord of the fringe 
bore at its middle a small golden tube, and when the head 
moved the tubes made a clear tinkling sound. Out of the 
llautu above white eagle feathers, two long red plumes taken 
from the tail of the pillcopichiu bird rose into the air. I was 
told that in all Peru there were only two of these birds, who 
bred in secret places that the diadem of each new Inca might 
be adorned. On the left side of this llautu was a plate of gold 
set in gems. Oval shells covered his ears. His eyes were shot 
with blood. He began to speak. 

His voice was soft and like a bird's at candle light. It was 
true, he said, that he made his fast. By tomorrow it would be 
over. Then he would come to the place where we were. This 

alchemy : 153 

we might announce to our lord. Tell him also to hold himself 
in readiness to account for the disrespect he had shown him, 
Atahualpa, by taking some matting from the room in Tumbez 
where his father, Huayna Capac, had been wont to sleep. Tell 
him, also, to be ready to repay all that he had taken between 
Tumbez and Caxamalca, the food as well as the other things. 
Such payment he was to hold in readiness against the morrow. 
Furthermore, take care none of his subjects moved out of the 
plaza, nor wandered over the town of Caxamalca. He specified 
which golpons we were to occupy. When he had finished, he 
lowered his eyes as a sign the audience was ended. 

I was dismayed, for I knew de Soto would not leave 
thus chided. His barbary was wiry, intelligent, and trained. In 
the space before the baths he made him to prance, curvet, 
and charge, and at the end drove him straight upon Atahu- 
alpa. At a full gallop he brought him to a stop so close to the 
Inca the horse's breath blew in the Indian's face. Several of 
his subjects drew back in terror, but Atahualpa made no move 
nor did a wrinkle come in his grave, handsome face. Only 
this: as de Soto bowed, he turned his head and spat into the 
hands of one of his wives. 

Pizarro gave out the order of the watch, and we waited for 
the night to come. It came suddenly, as we were finishing 
our rations of maize and a soup made from dried beans, which 
we drank out of our beavers. Quietly the outguards took their 
places. In the golpons horses might be uncinched but not 
unsaddled. The fires of the Inca had been lit long before 
dark. At first they made pale spots on the sky, but even as 
we watched the spots grew hard and bright. Pizarro walked 
down to the long wall. Gonzalo stayed behind, playing at dice. 
The bitter air crept down the mountains and settled about 
our feet. I thought I heard a noise and looked to the rear, 

154 : alchemy 

but I saw only the shadows from the deserted buildings 
crowding the men bunched in the plaza and overhead the 
black fort swelling like carrion. Chaves took me by the arm. 
"I don't want you to think I've lost my wits," he said, "but 
I can no longer tell where the camp fires end and the stars 

I made him no answer. After a long silence, Pizarro asked 
de Soto with a certain wonder, "The Inca spat into the hands 
of his wife?" 

"He will never spit upon the ground," the interpreter re- 
plied, "but for his majesty and state, when he has the occasion, 
uses the hand of the principal lady he loves." 

"The pride of the heathen," Pizarro said angrily and walked 

Later that night I lay down by the three arquebusiers. They 
had the only fire which was allowed to burn after dark. It was 
made in the mouth of the golpon and was screened by mantles 
and coats, but even so the men had orders to put it out as soon 
as they were done casting their bullets. They had used up their 
lead and were throwing copper trinkets into the open pot. 
One squatted by the fire watching the copper melt into slow 
and gluey bubbles. He had upon his face a look of puzzled 
concentration. At intervals he would reach forth his hands as 
though they had a purpose. They would falter and wave 
vaguely over the coals, catch the heat and rub it. His com- 
panions were cutting lengths of iron wire into thirds and 
fourths and bending each end into a hook. They spoke little, 
pausing long enough in their work to salute de Soto, who 
came in shortly afterwards and found me. The third man 
grabbed the long handle of the pot. "Ready?" he asked. The 
others nodded. One divided the mold with a leaf of iron as 
thin as paper, the other lay the two hooks on either side of it, 

alchemy : 155 

the third poured in the liquid copper, picked up the mold 
and dashed it into water. Two bullets now clung to each end 
of the wire. 

"These chain shot do great execution among pikes, Cap- 

The oldest man addressed de Soto. "You put the two bullets 
together in the arquebus, so. They spread out when shot and 
will break three or four pikes at once. I don't know how well 
they work among Indians. If they come at us in mass. . . ." 

I must have fallen asleep as they talked, for I was aroused 
by de Soto shaking me by the arm. "Are you awake?" 

"Yes," I answered. "What o'clock?" 

He did not answer me at once; then he said, "It is the turn- 
ing of the tides." 

We crossed the empty plaza. It was utterly dark; but as I 
glanced over the long wall, I saw in the plain that the night 
had thinned. Before the vase-like door of Pizarro's quarters 
a voice made a low challenge, and from either side of the 
entrance two heavy blurs moved out from the wall. I heard 
the halberds make a thud as they crossed. De Soto gave his 
name. The staffs fell sharply to the ground, ringing dully 
against their plates as the guards stiffened in salute. De Soto 
stooped over and entered the room. I followed. 

The captains turned as though we had surprised them in 
some secret. Two torches had been stuck in opposite walls. 
Between these Pizarro stood. He was clad in full armor. Under 
the flickering light the shadow from his long gaunt figure lay 
flat against the painted wall, crawled and bent itself over the 
roof beams and blackened the thatch. In a group the officers 
faced him, the brothers, Francisco Chaves, Juan de Herrada, 
de Candia, and others. To one side stood Friar Valverde. They 
opened and gave us place. After the movement we had caused, 

156 : alchemy 

Pizarro said, "We are all gathered?" He waited a moment 
and I could hear the heavy breathing around the room. Then 
he began to speak. "Our scouts report that during the night 
a large force has passed to our rear. In the dark the scouts were 
able to get close enough to hear the enemy. It took the column 
well over an hour to pass. Filipillo reports that the Indians 
had ropes and spoke of tying us up as we fled." Pizarro 
paused. "This is Atahualpa's reply to my invitation. Great and 
small, these Indians are ever treacherous. We come to the 
backside of the world to bring them salvation, and they repay 
us with treachery. But we will know how to meet it." Again 
he paused, and I saw his eyes glint as he lifted his head, but 
they plunged almost at once into shadow. 

"How?" de Soto asked. 

Pizarro leaned slightly forward and an eagerness grew in his 
voice. "When Seflor Atahualpa enters the plaza, there will be 
no one there to greet him." 

The walls of the fort pressed against the darkness and 
then suddenly it was everywhere light. The plaza was empty. 
Not a Christian was in sight. Only bits of harness and scat- 
tered dung showed that ever the solitude of this heathen 
city had been broken. Over the fields beyond Caxamalca the 
air was clear and dry. From my stand in the large door of the 
golpon I looked across at the Inca camp. It was all quiet 

Behind me a stallion neighed, hoofs pounded, metal struck 
metal. There were curses, harsh and brief. I turned about in 
time to see the unruly stallion brought in hand. In a few 
moments all was order again. Each lancer stood by his mount. 
The pikes were massed to the rear. To one side the sword and 
bucklers spoke together in low tones, and over against the 

alchemy : 157 

right wall the crossbowmen and arquebusiers leaned at ease. 
One of them, with his head bent over, was testing the thongs 
of his piece. I dismounted and gave the horse into the charge 
of de Soto's page and walked to where Pizarro stood with his 
captains. None spoke as I came up. Their eyes were all fixed 
in the same direction, watching for some movement among 
the tiny bright tents. 

The sun swung high over the mountains and still we 
waited. Not once had Pizarro taken his eyes from the door. 
"The Inca must be washing with all his women today," Juan 
said. A few leers responded to this jest but I was startled by 
the roughness of his voice and realized that nobody had 
spoken for a long while. 

"Do you suppose the troops that passed in the night are 
coming upon us from the rear?" the Legitimate asked in a 
guarded tone. 

Pizarro shook his head; then turned and glanced over his 
shoulder at the companies of horse and foot gathered into the 
large golpon. My gaze followed his. I noticed how thin and 
galled the horses looked. The men were sitting, some of them 
sprawling on the floor. Half our forces were in this hall and 
did not crowd it. The soldiers' faces bore the marks of watch- 
fulness which prisoners habitually show. 

"Listen!" Pizarro commanded. 

The blood rushed to my ears so that I did not hear; then 
faintly beating under the blood's beat, like a thing that strug- 
gles not to expire, I heard a quickened throbbing. 

"Drums!" Chaves said. 

The cries and clatter of armor shut off all sound. Up from 
the floor the sharp smell of sour clothes blew under my nose. 
The golpon grew still again, and I was leaning forward to 
meet the sound traveling under the air. It was sharp but like a 

158 : alchemy 

thing of moods it had changed. Out of the drums there came 
a thin high wailing of wind instruments and, thickening the 
beat, the slow-quick chant of voices. But no movement out of 
the camp. The sound might have been demons playing in a 
wood. I looked at the sun. It was near the hour of High Mass. 

Thus it stood for a while. And then out of the camp into 
the fields on either side of the road the Indians began to pour. 
The two masses rolled forward like lava. For another while 
the road held clear; but suddenly as though it had just broken 
free, a bright tongue squirmed its way over the bridge. Upon 
its back a casket glinted in the sun, "Jesu, there are thousands 
of them." 

On they came but so slowly it took them until near three 
hours of night to draw nigh the town. A haze of dust hovered 
above the Inca's array of forces and over the golpon. The 
horses were growing more and more restless. When their 
patience broke under the singing and the drums I cannot say, 
but at one certain moment they began to plunge and kick and 
bite. I ran to the gelding and took hold of the bridle. He had 
knocked the boy down and was pawing him. The boy rolled 
out of the way, crossing himself. This I saw without looking, 
for the confusion was growing. As it was about to break into 
panic, Pizarro's voice fell flat over the heads of man and beast. 
"Stand to arms! Lancers mount." 

In no time at all, with the riders upon their backs, the 
horses stood as mild as carrier beasts. 

The Indians were so close upon us we could make out their 
features. Dancing and singing chants of victory, bands of servi- 
tors swept the road before the lord's litter. On either side of it 
companies of warriors marched through the open fields. The 
Canari guard walked closest to the Inca, some two thousand 
of them surrounding him on either side. They carried them- 

alchemy : 159 

selves like peacocks and the shouts they gave on the downbeat 
of their tread was like the peacock's cry. Into the plaza filed 
the Inca's train until it crowded every part of it, and the 
noise stifled the air. I tried to count, gave it up, saw Pizarro 
reckon each company as it moved in through the gates. But 
he too gave it up and lifted his eyes to the sky. I followed 
his gaze. The sun was far down the western slope. 

Suddenly the plaza grew still. In the silence a prince of the 
blood came forward. He was attired like the Sun's messenger 
with his garments girt about his loins, bearing a lance all 
studded over with golden nails. Out of the staffhead colored 
plumes fell to the ground. But the herald faded from our eyes, 
for Atahualpa had reached the gates. With even pace over the 
tops of heads the bearers whose life it was to stumble made the 
royal litter to glide like a lazy bird. But a giant and oriental 
bird, for the litter was lined with feathered robes and pillows 
of down, and out of the feathers jewels played with the failing 
light. Atahualpa's chair was of beaten gold, and the canopy 
raised over it, held in the hands of princes, was mounted with 
plates of silver overlapped by plates of gold. 

The Inca lord sat like an idol in his robes, and about his 
feet the embroidery was as stiff as death. At his neck lay a 
collar of emeralds, fifty-two stones the size of a pigeon's egg, 
and from the stones hung carven topaz likened unto the sun 
and moon and the moon's fifty-two phases. Two fingers of hair 
fell at his ears and about his head circled the royal llautu. 
For scepter he bore a golden axe, and this he held immovable 
in his hand. Thus did he enter with the lord of Chincha at 
his feet, and thus did he come to a halt in the center of the 
plaza. Seconds passed. He moved slightly, turning his head. 
His voice at last broke the silence. ' 'Where, then, are the 
strangers?" He asked. 

160 : alchemy 

The air about me turned sharp and acrid. I looked down. 
A halberdier had made water in his hose. 

The silence could not hold. An Indian captain was ap- 
proaching the Inca. De Soto turned to Pizarro. "In God's 
name. . . ." 

Pizarro's voice, a little high but clear, cut him off. His hand 
grasped Father Vincente de Valverde by the sleeve. "Go to that 
Indian lord. ..." His voice broke off. He gave the priest a 

The priest slipped through the door, breviary in one hand 
and upraised crucifix in the other. Following close behind 
went the interpreter and Aldana, a good soldier. They ad- 
vanced through the silent Indians until they came before the 
litter. At once the priest began to harangue the Inca as 
though the heathen understood the Christian tongue. Pizarro, 
close in to the wall, peeped through the door. The Legitimate 
said, "The priest is running the Pope's authority from Adam. 
Give the signal, brother. He will speak us into night." 

"Hold," Pizarro said. 

The priest had just handed his breviary to the Inca, care- 
fully holding his robes from touching the feathered litter. 
Atahualpa took the book and turned it over in his hands. He 
let it fall to the ground. 

"Give him the sword for this sacrilege," Valverde shouted, 
leaning over to pick the breviary from the dirt. 

"He'll ruin us all," de Soto said under his breath. 

Aldana drew his sword and flourished it, but he whispered 
to the priest and they began hastily to retire. 

The three arquebusiers and bowmen had quietly taken 
their places behind the doors and cocked their weapons. Just 
as the priest scuttled into the golpon, Pizarro waved his scarf. 
Somebody shouted Santiago and at them! The arquebusiers 

alchemy : 161 

touched matches to their pieces. The room roared with re- 
verberations of the explosions. The horses charged into the 
open. From the fort sounded the heavy explosion of the 
falconet. With the cries of chivalry on our lips and the bells 
ringing on the horses' plates, we struck the Indians. 

In the first instant of confusion the Indians stood as though 
fastened to the ground; and then we were knocking them 
down like ninepins. In as many seconds I lanced a dozen. 
Then I lost count. I always aimed for the belly. There the 
flesh gave as easily as butter, but once I grew careless — it was 
so easy — and pushed through to the backbone. It took some 
seconds to release the lance. I had to put my foot against the 
Indian's middle; and, jerking back, I saw the priest running 
in and out among the Christians giving absolution where he 

The Inca's retinue, almost at once, was reduced to complete 
confusion. The surprise of our attack, its constant pressure, 
drove his servants against the walls and buildings. In the 
midst of the battle I saw the Inca's litter dip and roll like a 
boat in a storm. Pizarro had reached within a lance of his 
prize. The pikemen laid the lord's guards down in ranks, 
the sword and bucklers ran through to finish up the boldest 
who leaped at the pikes to drag them down. This close, but 
no closer, did the Christians get. As one rank went down, 
another took its place. The Indians had made a wall of death 
about their lord and he, now still, now shaken, looked with 
bewilderment upon what he saw. 

Then into the cries and the trumpets, the explosions of the 
falconet, there came a terrific crash, a gasping silence, and a 
long wailing. The wall for some thousand paces had given 
away and the Indians were spilling over into the plain. The 
Legitimate, hanging upon the rear of this mass, drove them as 

162 : alchemy 

far as the baths. My horse was drawn into the tow of this 
flight and pursuit. With great difficulty I turned about and, 
with eight of my companions who had been swept aside, 
worked back towards the litter. Slowly we lunged through 
those remaining in the plaza until we reached again the wall 
of death. There we stopped. Grabbing mane and tail, at bridle 
and hoof, the Canari guard held us fast. For one we cut away 
four rose up to take his place. I fought until my mouth grew 
parched; hot wires burned along my arms; and still the Inca 
kept his chair. No word of encouragement did he give to the 
guard, nor did his vanishing fortunes seem to move him. 
Aloof, he watched the furious struggle for his person and his 
throne as if it were a show set forth for his pleasure. 

The shadows began to creep up the mountain slopes. In 
spite of the success of our arms the approaching dark might 
lose us our prize, for unless Atahualpa fell into our hands, the 
scattering of his retinue was empty work. Not only empty 
work, but we were done for. This was painfully clear, and it 
was equally clear that we now faced something more in- 
vincible than steel and horse. Our adversary was death, and 
death served the unshaken majesty of this Indian lord. 

With this thought in mind Pizarro made one last great 
effort and cleared the way to the litter where we fought until 
from very weariness a Christian drew his dagger to stab the 
Inca. Pizarro came between and turned the weapon. "Let no 
man kill him on pain of death," he shouted hoarsely. And then 
out of desperation some seven or eight of us rushed the litter, 
took hold of it and tumbled the Inca out of his chair. 

At the sight the Canari guard gave up in despair. Some few 
fled, but the most of them stood helplessly about. They gave 
themselves up without further resistance. Later many of those 

alchemy : 163 

who had fled returned and sat down around the house where 
their lord was imprisoned. 

Atahualpa had scarcely been put away before night and a 
cold wind blew down from the peaks and settled over Caxa- 
malca and the plain beyond. We, the victors, drew together 
in this strange place, thousands of leagues from Christendom, 
on the backside of the world, and in awe viewed what our 
hands had wrought. The dead and the hurt lay heaped in the 
plaza. The mighty host of the heathen lord was broken and 
scattered. A kingdom of riches such as we had never imagined 
lay to our hands and we, a few poor companies of horse and 
foot, had done this thing without the loss of a single life. 
Pizarro alone showed a wound, one in the hand, got in fend- 
ing for his royal prisoner. 

In the hiatus which follows every battle de Soto and Pizarro 
stood together in the sudden dark and looked over the wreck- 
age, over the plain, to the sloping hill where, the night before, 
the Inca's host had lain around its thousands of fires. The two 
men looked on in silence. No longer would the stars be 
confused by the fires' glow. They were out — forever out. 
Perhaps it was of this the two captains were thinking. After 
a while de Soto's voice slipped through the darkness. "God's 
miracle," he whispered. 

"Amen," I murmured or thought I spoke. Now I am 
unsure. Now that de Soto, Pizarro, all who took part in that 
conquest are dead, either dead or scattered, or like me fit only 
to speak of the things they did when their strength was in 
them, now the word sounds across the long past like the sign 
of an alchemical charm. That day a kind of alchemy was 
done. So it seems to me, now that I can see better the end. 
Most men are hastening to meet some disaster. Yet whatever 
it was which on that day of triumph filled the eyes of those 

164 : alchemy 

two captains, it seemed to them a thing of radiance, in white 
robes and most beautiful. But beside them there was in 
attendance a companion clad in very different guise. As they 
reached out their hands to clasp their desires, that other — the 
dark thing — stepped forward to receive them. 


a name for evil 

To Edna 



is in bad repair, but it will suit my purpose all the better." 
Its decay was not such that it was beyond restoration. Per- 
haps I should say regeneration, for I had bought more than 
a house. There was land attached and because land has history, 
is history rather, involving lives and fateful happenings, it is 
more exact to say regeneration. I ignored this fact, looking 
over the house with her that fall afternoon and talking ex- 
citedly over the problems which the abuse of indifferent 
tenants and croppers had caused, in their brutish way empha- 
sizing the neglect of the owners. How sad, I reflected, and 
how evil a thing it is, to let a noble establishment be put into 
the hands of the depraved who care only for draining the 

168 : a name for evil 

land of its strength, always taking out, never putting back the 
food of life! But at the moment I must confess it was the 
house which occupied me. In spite of the decay it was beauti- 
ful on that day, a day bright and cool with the first dry breath 
of autumn. How much I would have spared us all, had I 
faced logically the entire meaning of the ruin we were about 
to enter and make our own! 

I am convinced now there are certain places which the past 
holds, literally, absolutely, and with a tenure no present 
occupant can dispute. I do not pretend to understand the 
metaphysics of such a lien, but I have felt its power. I do 
not speak now of the grosser illusion of ghosts with chains 
and such tommyrot, and yet who can say that even they, in 
all their melodramatic clanking, do not exist? What forms 
of being, what substances, do we not today accept, which 
once the wisest opinion would have denied? Man's brain, 
whirling in the vacuum it creates, precipitates from nothing 
the once hidden secrets of the universe. I smile as I use the 
word. Even the laws of the universe in this dark crucible must 
find another definition. 

At some remote time the farm had belonged to my family, 
not to my immediate forebears, but to a collateral branch 
of the Revolutionary major who "removed," as the saying 
went, to the current West of the time. There have been so 
many Wests in our national life it puzzles me no end why his- 
torians take so little account of the true meaning of diis re- 
markable circumstance. Unhappily our scholarship took for 
model the nineteenth-century German method of objectivity 
with all its sterile accumulation of data for data's sake. So 
many sins, public and private, have been disguised by pseudo- 
scientific jargon. Like the mole underground the scholars dug 
and they dug, in their blindness through their dark tunnel. 

a name for evil : 169 

And the historian most of all reflected this infatuation. To 
write straight English prose made him suspect among his 
fellows. To show imagination — that was professional suicide. 
The West, the progression of Wests: could he not see that 
there was more than accident to this repetition? The word, the 
faith rather of it, always in the American consciousness, the 
last resort of the desperate in fortune and body, what could 
it mean but one thing? To yearn for the West is simply to 
yearn for death. Why was it given to me, to me alone, to 
understand it like a prophet and to suffer it like a martyr? 

I had just left Ellen somewhere in the house. The tenant's 
wife had given us permission to go through it, too obligingly 
I thought, or rather I didn't think. I only felt the woman's 
manner. But I paid her no mind, for I was enthralled with 
my wife's enthusiasm and her light gay movements about the 
dirty, scarred rooms. The wallpaper was torn from the walls, 
the plaster cracked and written upon, the edges of the floors 
painted the most horrid color of yellow; and where there 
wasn't the grime of years, the tenants' filthy disorder made 
even the grime look respectable. Through this Ellen sailed 
like an angel, exclaiming over the impressive woodwork, the 
winding stair, all the good points which she and I would re- 
vive for our own ends. I had never admired or loved her more 
than on that day. Her lovely little feet fairly seduced me all 
over again. There was something, as my father had said, about 
her gait. If he could have seen her then, he would have known 
it was the gait of a thoroughbred. 

Disorder and ruin fascinate yet depress me. I felt the need 
for air and perspective and so went out into the yard. Soon 
I was busy at the problems before us. A small passageway 
between the kitchen and the main dwelling had been closed. 
This must be knocked out to restore the charm of covered 

170 : a name for evil 

ways meant to protect servants from the weather. The roof 
needed painting, window sills had rotted away, blinds were 
hanging askew or missing entirely; but I told myself that 
these were superficial things after all. The house, built 
of solid brick, was surely sound. How long it took me to finish 
these calculations I have no way of knowing. I merely 
wandered to the front of the house, thinking Ellen would be 
there. She was not there. This seemingly trivial fact con- 
tained for us the mystery of all fatality. It gave the slight 
jar to the door which even then was closing to shut us off 
from the natural world. The fateful moments of life are never 
discerned as they occur. Nor are they ever dramatic. At best 
they count as unimportant trifles to be brushed aside or for- 
gotten. But later, when it is too late, we see them for what 
they are: signposts. It is for this reason they go unnoted. A 
sign points the way. It makes no comment on the end of the 

I called Ellen's name. The tenant's wife came to the door 
and said, "Ellen's in here." 

I looked at her coldly. "Whom do you mean?" I asked. 
"Mrs. Brent?" 

I felt both anger and pity for the woman. The unique 
triumph of universal education is the successful way it debases 
the mind. Besides making the ignorant arrogant, this spun 
sugar of our political carnival has corrupted manners. A 
little understanding of reading, writing, and ciphering caused 
this poor woman — I do not overlook her feeling of injustice, 
but alas, if one seeks justice . . . — to assert her feeling of 
inferiority by assuming a social familiarity which doesn't 
come by paying the poll tax. If she had been called on to 
justify herself, she would have said, "She ain't no better'n 
me." To this has come Jefferson's dream and to this the 
lifting of a political phrase out of the context of its time. In 

a name for evil : 171 

God's sight we are all equal, but God's intentions are in- 
scrutable. In the blindness of the world there is no alterna- 
tive to good manners but brute force. 

As we were driving away I said to Ellen, "I told the tenant 
he would have to find another place." 

"But I thought you were going to let him stay on?" 

I then explained to her my reasons. Her voice hastened, 
"But it is too late to trade for another year." 

"I will find someone." 

"But if you don't, we can't afford to let the farm lie idle 
and we are not ready to move." 

"If the worst comes to the worst, we can take over," I 
said confidently. 

"But the house — we can't live in it as it is." 

"We won't be living. We'll camp at first and see it change 
under our hands. I think that would be rather fun." 

"Fun?" She queried. "There's no waterworks . . . no . . . 
no bathroom." 

"Mighty good people made out all their lives without a 
bathroom. We ought to for a while." 

"I know, but, darling ..." 

"Now, don't you worry your pretty head about this. I'll 
fix it." 

She was silent as we drove back to town. 


I could not find a tenant who would take over responsibility 
for the farm. I did find a Negro family who had been associ- 

172 : a name for evil 

ated with the place for many generations. This family moved 
in that winter, but we waited until early spring. To try to live 
in the house over the hard winter months would have exposed 
us to unnecessary hardship. After all The Grove, for so the 
place was called, was to serve us, not we it. 

We arrived one day in early spring to take formal posses- 

"Are you sure this is what you want?" Ellen was asking. 

We had just stopped the car in front of the house and were 
looking at it. We had not alighted. We sat in silence, I at 
the wheel and she beside me. I replied irritably, or perhaps 
my voice carried a conviction that was rather forced. "Of 
course this is what I want," I said. And then as if to press 
her as an accomplice, "Don't you want to do it? We've talked 
and planned of a place all our own, a sort of base. Well, you've 
got to have a place to keep your books." 

"I was only thinking," she said. 

"Thinking of what?" 

"It's going to take a lot of money and a lot of work. 
I thought . . ." 

"Yes?" I was a little impatient. 

"Only that we ought to be sure." 

"Of course we are sure," I said and got out of the car. 

I slammed the door harder than I meant to. 

She came to me and slipped her arm through mine. I 
pressed her to me for an instant. I did not understand my 
mood. I felt as if I had been put on the defensive and that 
my defense was false. This made me irritable, for there was 
no apparent reason for it. Nothing had occurred to make 
me change my mind, but as I stood on the broad lawn and 
looked through the old ragged cedars at the dwelling, I in- 
voluntarily pressed Ellen's arm into my side. We had seen The 

a name for evil : 173 

Grove many times, in fact and in the mind's eye, but we had 
never seen it empty before. The sloven Blacks — that was the 
name of the tenants I had ejected — gave it a certain if sorry 
kind of life. Well, life is scarcely the word. They had never 
lived there in the sense that you make a house reflect your 
being. Nor was it merely that they were slipshod tenants. I 
have seen croppers turn a shack into a livable and thriving 
scene of domestic well-being. The Blacks had done little 
better than camp at the place. Now gone, they could no 
longer divert me from seeing the truth. It was this truth which 
held my eyes and fixed me to the spot. The Grove did not 
look empty! Even in its forlorn condition it gave all the ap- 
pearance of having a life of its own. What this might be I, in 
my ignorance, could not decide. But in a few short seconds 
this much of my feeling had clarified itself: whatever this life 
was, it was to become ours too. 

With this thought in mind I turned to Ellen. I turned with 
the abruptness of the descent of this knowledge. "Come, 
darling," I said with spirit, "I must carry you over the 

"No, you don't," she answered playfully but pushing me 
away all the same. "You've carried me over two thresholds 

I tried to grab her but she raced across the lawn, under 
the great cedars and up to the entrance doorway. She pulled 
open the heavy walnut door and sidled in. "Wait for me," 
I cried and ran after her, but before I could reach the top 
step, the door slowly swung to between us. 

I grasped the knob. It was old brass and well tarnished. I 
grabbed it, turned it, but the door remained fast. Nervously 
I shook it, shaking, and calling her name. She did not answer. 
I set my face against the long red glass, those happy inventions 

174 : a name for evil 

of a day of much visiting, cast to give the host that moment 
of advantage, after the knocker falls, when he may look out 
but the guest may not look in. The redness of the glass blurred 
the long entrance hall, and the winding stair wavered as ob- 
jects do under water, but Ellen I did nowhere see. I had only 
to run to the back of the house to enter, but I felt drawn to 
that door. Through that door alone I would enter and find 
my wife. It was ridiculous. The day was overcast and coldish, 
as are so many early spring days, but it was ten o'clock in the 
morning. Men were turning the land. In the field to the side 
of the house two dogs were chasing a rabbit, and yet I felt that 
to separate my hand from that tarnished brass knob would set 
me adrift on a tow which would sweep me forever away from 
the safe known into the swirling pools of strangeness. I made 
a lurch at the knob — you can see how far gone I was in 
hysteria — when at my ear a voice said, "Excuse me, sir, I'll 
unlock d' door for you." 

"But it isn't locked," I almost shouted. 

The Negro bent down and slipped the old key into its 
lock, making the necessary movement into a bow, with just the 
proper inclination of his head in my direction. In that short 
time I managed to compose myself so that I was fairly calm as 
he stepped back. 

"You can enter now," he said gravely, handing me the 
key. "Them folks give it to me when they removed." 

"Thank you, Johnny," I replied more easily. "Miss Ellen 
went in before me. I could not understand how the door 
locked itself." 

He made no response to this but presented me the blank 
mask of patience and reserve which with Negroes of a certain 
generation seems to imply a secret commentary. 

Once inside I hurried through empty rooms, each one 

a name for evil : 175 

flashing its peculiar mark of decay and abuse . . . paper 
hanging from the walls, the stain of rain, old rags thrust 
through a window light. I hurried on, into the dining room, 
its grime and grease thick on the floor and splashed about 
the wainscoting near the mantel. The rusty flue mouth gaped 
obscenely. Charred holes gouged the floor where the Blacks 
and others like the Blacks had set the cookstove. It was the 
well-swept floors which set off these marks of debased living. 
Johnny had followed my directions. I noted this even in 
my distraction, for the landlord can tell by the way the new 
tenant reacts to his orders how well they will get on together. 

But in none of these rooms did I find Ellen. I waited until 
I had got out of hearing of the hall and called. It was im- 
portant not to be surprised again in Johnny's hearing. 
"Ellen!" My voice sounded no louder than an urgent whisper. 
"Ellen, Ellen" went before me up the back stairs and through 
the upper rooms of the L. But no reply did I get to an appeal 
become too desperate for the occasion. My alarm was absurd, 
yet for all its absurdity, how real! 

The particular charm of the place lay in its L. The house 
itself was the usual multiple of the dog run, raised to im- 
posing proportions, hall above and below, with four bedrooms 
of enormous size opening on the upper hall and attached 
to each room a small cabinet for dressing. Near the front 
of the upper hall a passage opened onto a long narrow gallery, 
with brick arches supporting the roof. This gallery repeated 
itself on the other side, so that one might walk entirely around 
the three small rooms, all in a row and opening to either view. 
Each room stood at a level lower than the one above, causing 
you to step down the arched way until you came to the bot- 
tom level. Here the gallery separated the end room from the 
other two. In this room I found Ellen. 

176 : a name for evil 

The door stood open. A moment passed before she gave 
any sign of recognition. On seeing me, she started slightly. 
"Why, darling, you seem all in a fuss," she said, smiling 
sweetly and coming forward. 

"Didn't you hear me call?" 

"Call?" she returned with a winning innocence. How 
well and perfect was her surprise at the quality of alarm still 
in my voice! And truly now my alarm seemed foolish enough 
and I found I had nothing to say. As if sensing my embar- 
rassment, she chattered in the thoroughly natural way of a 
good housekeeper. "Whoever cleaned up," she said, "gave out 
when they got here. Look. Nothing has been swept in this 
room. The dirt is inches deep." 

"I'll speak to Johnny about this," I said and laughed 
heartily, too heartily, as it seemed to her, for the occasion. 
She looked at me with a queer expression. Naturally my sud- 
den burst of laughter seemed strange to her, but I could not 
explain without alarming her or else seeming more foolish in 
her eyes. Neither did I want to do. And indeed my fears now 
seemed altogether fantastic, and having nothing to say, I 
grew silent once more. Ellen in her wonderfully tactful way 
began to speak. 

"Look," she said enthusiastically. "We can make this entire 
upper L into our apartment. We will glass in the arches. One 
room shall be our bedroom. One an upstairs sitting room. 
That of course will really be mine, but we will call it ours. 
And this room — " she looked slowly about it — "dust and all, 
shall be your study." 

"Fine," I responded with enthusiasm to match hers. "It is 
here we will begin the restoration." 

Why, I do not know, but I said it like a challenge. 

a name for evil : 177 


certainly it had no logical genesis — I had had before the door 
to the entrance hall stayed with me. Not that I brooded on it, 
nor even thought about it. It had entered my blood, chang- 
ing its chemistry, diffused, unseen, awaiting the catalytic agent 
which would precipitate it, when it would appear in all the 
awful isolation of its elemental state. 

I recall the busy weeks of this period, when I was both 
aware and unaware of the approaching connection of events 
so dire that now I wonder how, for a moment, I misread the 
signs. There was the small matter of the unswept room, trivial 
enough in itself and easily explained: the house was big and 
the sweeper or sweepers had merely overlooked the small 
room at the end of the L's second story. I should have for- 
gotten it by payday, as indeed I forgot it during the interval; 
but as I made out the pay check it came to me to say, so 
casually there was not the slightest hint of what I sought, "By 
the way, Johnny, they didn't sweep the little room upstairs." 

My statement was met by silence, so that I had to repeat 
myself. I did this deliberately, to take the proper strategic 
position to force from him the true reason for the neglect. 
Johnny's silence had told me what I had suspected: the 
room had not been ignored for any of the obvious reasons. 
I unbent somewhat and said in my most pleasant manner, 
"Come now, Johnny, what was the reason?" As I spoke, I 
looked directly at him, to let him know I would not laugh or 
assume an attitude by which he would lose dignity. He re- 

178 : a name for evil 

turned my look with the degree of confidence I had invited. 

"That's old Major Brent's room," he answered. 

There was no apology in the muddy white of his eyes. Nor 
in his voice. His speech was a statement, and he spoke it as 
if it were self-explanatory. But I did not let him off so easily. 

"What do you mean, Major Brent's room? He's been dead 
seventy-five years." 

"He a hard man. He don't like folks projecting wid his 

"So you believe in ghosts?" I asked with reproving humor. 

In a most polite way he followed the line of his evasion. 
"When he a old man, he stand on the porch there, in the 
dark, and ring the bell. And his boys better waste no time 
gitten up. He drove them hard as he drove he hands. He 
stand there and lay out the work for the day, work most folks 
take three days to do. He say, 'No triflen. If you kill a mule, 
I'll buy another. If you kill a Negro, I'll buy another.' And 
they say, Tessir, Pa.' Then he go upstairs to he room, and we 
all knowed he had eyes like a crow." 

I waited before I spoke again. Then I leaned forward. 
"But, Johnny, you weren't living then." 

"No, sir," he replied, with the proper deference for the 
amenities, and then resumed, "If us'ud stop at the end of the 
row to blow a spell, he tap the bell. We knowed what dat 
meant. The sun was sizzlen hot and the clods hot to our feets 
and our bref dried out our moufs, but didn't nobody tarry. 
Not here. No, sir, not here dey didn't." 

"But, Johnny," I said with a slight edge to my words, 
"that was years ago, before you or anybody in this country was 

"Yessir," he said respectfully. 

"Ghosts can't hurt you." 

a name for evil : 179 

"No, sir," he agreed. 

"Then why were you afraid to sweep my room." 
"Major Brent don't allow nobody in there." 
I was baffled. Johnny was not senile. He was not crazy. He 
had all the guile and simplicity of a country Negro, and I was 
certain he was a man of character. In spite of myself he had 
put me on the defensive. It was he, not I, who determined 
the limits of our talk. I either had to lose my temper, a bad 
thing always for the boss, or accept the fiction that old Major 
Brent had a kind of immortality attributed only to demigods. 
Certainly he could not be numbered among ghosts of the 
common garden variety. 

I shifted ground and tried to get at Johnny another way. I 
could not leave things as they were: that is, I could in no way 
accept the fiction his attitude would impose, the impossible 
position of allowing the spirit of a dead man to determine 
what would and would not be done at The Grove. At the 
same time I knew that I would fail if I had to come to grips 
with a superstition of such peculiar power. I had to recover 
control and I had to do it then and there. I thought fast. It did 
not take me a minute to reach a decision. I did what was left 
to do. I accepted the full measure of the challenge — a strange 
kind of engagement it was — between the living and the dead. 
I accepted it without hesitation and without reservations. My 
decision brought relief, as I raised my eyes and looked 
squarely at Johnny. "I am taking that little room for my 
study," I said and paused to let this information sink in. 
Then I added quietly, "Whoever occupied it in the past, be 
it man or spirit, can file no claim now. It is too late. Mine it 
is, and mine alone." 

His expression did not change, but I saw that I had made 
my point and well made it. Seeing how my position had 

180 : a name for evil 

strengthened, I made it stronger still. "Of course, I can't 
occupy a dirty room. If your women are afraid of ghosts, I 
won't ask them to tend it." I could feel, oh with what joy 
I felt that I now held the reins! "If necessary," I said, "I'll 
sweep it myself." How well I had calculated I could see in 
the slight shift of the shoulders, a drooping and a straight- 
ening. Those few seconds told me much. He was not a servant 
who worked only for wages. That was the advantage I had over 
him. It was on that knowledge I gambled. He knew I could 
not be allowed to dust my own furniture. He said very 
simply, "I will tend the room." 

I bowed slightly, to indicate that such would be agreeable 
to me; then to make the sure surer, to consolidate my already 
consolidated position, I spoke once more before he returned 
to the matter of farm business on which he had come. "You 
must know, Johnny, that if you look to a ghost for meat, your 
chin will get mighty dry." I was cool and reserved as I spoke, 
perhaps with a touch of humor, to soften the implied threat 
of my words. Then quickly I shifted the conversation. 

I did this as much as anything to disguise my triumph, and 
it was no slight one. There would be no more of this business 
of referring to the dead as alive. Wryly I thought how nice it 
would be if old Major Brent would pay the taxes. A ghost was 
a perfectly recognizable myth. I could dispose of that. But a 
man who was immortal? That was not for me, not with all the 
other problems I had to confront. And so it came about that in 
my delight I allowed Johnny to choose what fields would be 
planted in tobacco, in grain, and in hay. 

As he was turning away, he said, "I forgot to mention the 
corn ground. That field that lies next to the woods make 
mighty fine corn." 

"Go ahead. Plant it," I said in the security of my triumph. 

a name for evil : 181 

He put his hat on. ''Major Brent likes his corn planted 
there," he said politely and, bowing slightly, walked away. 



lence? I confess that was my first reaction. It took a while to 
quiet the anger in my heart, and killing anger it was. Only 
by great effort did I restrain myself as my blurred eyes watched 
him walk calmly away with my triumph. But reason prevailed, 
slowly as the pounding in my head eased its strokes. After all, 
I had to tell myself, I had given him permission to plant the 
corn where he chose. His comment was a small matter. This, 
at least, was the official view to take. For could not I have 
ordered the corn put elsewhere? If I was tricked into giving 
permission, it was I, the rightful owner and landlord, who had 
to be tricked. And so long as the duel kept to the rules, I was 
content. At least I would win or lose on my own merit and 
skill. But the more I turned Johnny's behavior over in my 
head the more I dismissed the idea of any intended insolence. 
He had been connected with The Grove longer than I. In his 
way he had shown respect for its tradition, certainly a virtue 
I should try to increase, not thwart. I was the interloper, 
the untried one. For almost the years of his life Johnny had 
seen owners and tenants abuse house and land. It was to his 
honor that he kept faith with the memory of Major Brent, 
the only man within his knowledge who had brought The 
Grove to its highest moment and then sustained it. In his 
tradition-respecting mind Johnny could find little help from 

182 : a name for evil 

the dead. Countryman that he was, he was too familiar with 
the natural order: the dead are dead. So dramatically, and 
because of the drama to his mind believable, he went beyond 
the laws of nature and endowed the Major with the mystery 
of immortality and its limitless prerogatives. 

So I worked it out at the moment. In those days I had skill 
in such matters. I prided myself on knowing people better 
than they knew themselves, and obviously the situation had to 
be solved or I was faced with ruin. I could not actually farm 
the land myself; I could not afford to lose a crop without 
endangering all I had put into the venture, not to mention 
my peace of mind, or Ellen's. 

I am not a romantic. The true romantic has hidden pockets 
into which his imagination secretes a drug to protect him 
from the common evils of the hour. I am, I was, that most 
unhappy of hybrids, the false romantic. With will and de- 
liberation, and this is the essence of the difference, the false 
romantic ignores the true nature of reality. For the time 
being. And in the beginning he knows it is only for the time 
being. With care and half-averted eye he hangs the veil of 
illusion between himself and the world. Almost from habit 
he believes the veil was hung by God, or in the most violent 
falsification of his nature, he becomes God. I say almost, for 
he never quite forgets what he is doing. There is this to be 
said for him. More often the injury done is to himself alone. 
The true romantic poisons the air all men breathe. 

Later, in my study, where I threw myself on the couch, 
exhausted from the ordeal, I began to review my situation. 
How blithely I had gone into this business! And truly the 
idea had seemed sound: establish my family in one location 
as a safeguard against the hazards of my uncertain profession; 
regenerate a family place and make up for the failure in 

a name for evil : 183 

trusteeship of those who had gone before. Was this unduly 
romantic? There, on the couch in that little study, I seemed 
to myself no squatter but the proper kind of heir. And besides, 
how much more worth while, how much more manhood this 
undertaking demanded than to stay in town, spend our days 
in poker playing and entertaining casual drifters who came 
to us to fill their emptiness. What I had not foreseen was the 
magnitude of the undertaking. Both Ellen and I, she more 
than I, had had that moment of warning, standing there on 
the lawn when we had arrived to possess The Grove. This 
warning I refused to hear, and even now, when it sounded 
a second time and more clearly, for Johnny's obsession with 
the Founder was a line leading directly to the past — even now 
I might have withdrawn. Instead I rose to my feet and silently 
— for where was my adversary visible? — renewed the chal- 
lenge. I would stay and fulfill my destiny. 

And so the die was cast. It had been all along, but there is 
something final about deliberate choice, the act of will which 
saves or damns. In all good camaraderie Ellen and I set our 
double bed in one of the large rooms downstairs. How bare 
the bed made the room seem, and how impermanent our 
occupancy! The fact that it was a temporary arrangement 
did not help much. We had moved in below so that we could 
work freely on the apartment upstairs. Each night I had to 
look up at the cracks in the ceiling, at the strips of torn and 
faded paper. In spite of myself I began to feel unclean, spirit- 
ually at first and then more directly. I noticed if I were not 
careful, my body took on a poor-white smell. 

During these days I wondered again and again at Ellen's 
good sportsmanship. If I felt so, how must she feel? Her ac- 
ceptance of a situation whose demands grew daily more com- 
plex brought from me nothing but admiration. Ordinarily a 

184 : a name for evil 

man does not care how things look, so long as he knows they 
will improve. But a woman of beauty, and Ellen's beauty was 
renowned, requires time to maintain it. There is the ritual 
of the hair, the hands, the exacting, oh so exacting art of 
make-up. There are the thousand and one things which a 
man does not understand but which a woman practices with 
the skill and discipline of an artist. In ordinary conditions 
the husband has little occasion to be aware of this endless 
effort to remain young and beautiful. But here, at The Grove, 
this effort made itself painfully apparent. 

As I watched her cope with the unending chores of house- 
keeping in her impossible surroundings and the renovation 
of our ruined grandeur, I felt the sweet pain of pathos bite 
into me, for her and for all creatures trapped by circumstance. 
She was one of those rare beings nature creates by accident. 
There was in her constitution almost a biological lack — an 
inability to suffer what we all must suffer, the plain facts of 
living. I said to myself that the power which creates made 
her as an image for all men to behold, an image of inviola- 
bility to change. This was her given function. This and this 
above all. She was never, oh never, to endure the common 
filth of living. But that same power had set her in the way 
of the world as it might hurl the ideal bird into the air and 
forget to give it wings to fly. 

Or so it seemed to me in my partial knowledge as I watched 
her slim figure, the small well-shod feet, the tailored look — 
for so she always appeared no matter what she wore — pass 
through the halls and rooms still showing the corrosion of 
time. I began to tremble, thinking of the day when the scales 
would drop from her eyes, that divine web which hid from her 
the vast complexity of our situation. This thought sent me 
into renewed activity, the haste that is always waste, the 

a name for evil : 185 

desperate compromise to get a thing done, no matter how. 
And to find that after the moral defeat which all compromises 
entail things were still undone, or only started to be dropped 
at the capricious hands of carpenters and plumbers. 

How near my fears approached the thing feared showed 
in an incident which happened at the lunch hour in early 
June. I was always coming or going on diplomatic missions to 
workmen. I came in, from what errand I do not now remem- 
ber, and found Ellen standing by the table we had set up 
on the porch. The porch, I must add, had been repaired but, 
like everything else I had had done, was still unfinished. She 
was in tears. She stood back from the table, pointing at it, 
her face set in a strain of horror beyond any obvious cause. 

"Look!" she cried. "Just look!" 

The tone of hysteria in her voice frightened me. Quickly 
I looked where she pointed; saw the food set out and nothing 
more. I raised my eyes with a question. "But, darling, what?" 

"Those flies," she replied, in loathing and disgust. 

"Flies?" I repeated stupidly. 

"All morning I've worked hard in the kitchen to prepare 
a good lunch. Now look at it. It's ruined." 

"Flies are bad," I said. "But nothing's ruined. It's the time 
of year for them." I tried to soothe her as best I could. "Come, 
I'll shoo them away. As soon as I can get the wire, I'll screen 
in this part of the porch. In time I'll move the barn." 

She turned on me a look more of incomprehension than 
anger. "That's all you ever say, Henry. In time." 

"Why, honey." 

"You do nothing to make it easy for me. All day you ride 
around and walk in the fields and woods. I do the drudgery." 
Her voice drew fine. "You don't know what I put up with. 
You don't care." 

186 : a name for evil 

"I do care. You know I care. But there's a war on. It's hard 
to get things and get them done. I work at it every day, and I 
do care," I wound up. I thought I was magnificent in my 
restraint, but it brought me nowhere. She refused to eat with 
me or eat at all. She fled to our room in tears and shut herself 

I had come in tired and hungry. Now my appetite was gone. 
I was also baffled and angry. My load was already as heavy 
as I could bear. To add to it in this way seemed unfair. The 
middle of a project is no time to judge it, nor judge me. So 
I felt, but I well knew that my feelings were beside the point. 
I turned away from the ruin of the meal, drew in my breath, 
and knocked at the door to our room. 

She was sitting up in bed, her swollen eyes staring in ut- 
most dejection. 

"Darling, I'm sorry," I said. "I will make it better for you." 

She seemed not to hear. In a pitiful, childlike way she lifted 
her hands and turned them over, as if she were seeing them 
for the first time. 

"Look," she wailed, "how rough they are!" 

I sat beside her and took her hands in mine and caressed 
them. But I could find no words for comfort. What was I to 
say? Your hands will grow smooth and white again? With no 
cook and no immediate prospect of help? 

Suddenly, with fierce intention, she grasped my hands. 
"Let's go away from this place. While there's time. We are 
young now. It will take years to make the house livable, even 
decent. Then it will be too late." Almost as an afterthought 
she added, "We will be old then. Old — and ugly." 

"Try to be patient," I said. 

That was all I could say. I felt foolish but there was despera- 
tion in my voice, for I was really saying, "Don't shake my 

a name for evil : 187 

faith in myself." My next words showed the full measure of 
my desperation. "What I am doing, Ellen, is for you." 

"Henry Brent, no other man would ask a woman to live 
like this," she said at last. 

Her words struck like a blow; then I was lost in the blank 
swoon of the heart in which, moments later, the meaning of 
her accusation rushed. This was not the frailty I had feared. 
This was much worse: a rift to make two of one, a blasphemy 
against the union of marriage, where common ends diverge. 
I had not foreseen it nor prepared for it. Nor was I now pre- 
pared. I could only stammer, "But you agreed." 

"I have tried," she said disconsolately and then raised her 
hand in a vague gesture toward the room. 

My eyes followed. The hot midday sun was streaming 
through the curtainless windows, leaving not a shadow to 
soften or disguise the room's bleak and sordid appearance. 
In one upper corner long brown streaks, the color of tobacco 
spittle, stained the wall. And everywhere the endless plaster 
cracks. In one corner sat a trunk piled with clothes. A lone 
chair faced the cheerless hearth, a thing of pure utility with 
no promise of domestic comfort. But nothing pointed out the 
bleakness of our situation so dramatically as the bilious- 
colored paint that once had outlined the rug. I don't know 
why, but the bare middle of the floor contained for me at that 
moment the most violent threat to our venture: nay — to our 
life even. 

At last I looked up, to face it out with Ellen. Erect, with her 
hands folded on the counterpane and tightly clasped, she sat 
withdrawn, immobile, straining into a stilled image, as if to 
move would open her body to the contagious air. What struck 
me most was her out-of-placeness in the room and also, in 
spite of her complaint about her hands, the certainty that the 

188 : a name for evil 

decay around us would never spread to her person or to her 
will. It might destroy, it would never claim her. I looked more 
closely and already saw marks of the struggle. Her old radi- 
ance had gone out of her, but she was still lovely to look at; 
and where all was sordid, she shone pure, trim, and immacu- 
late. Shone was the word, but the light she gave off no longer 
came from an inner source. It was all surface reflection. 

And there she was and there I was, in the full flood of high 
noon, mere flecks in the hot speed of the sun, its rush a bright 
stillness from window to window until the solid brick walls 
all seemed of glass. In self-pity and sorrow for creature kind 
I understood how along this burning way time fused with 
space, how there was neither motion nor surface but endless 
extension into which all was lost. I understood the feeble 
valiant effort of builders to raise walls against this burning 
force which in giving life made it ignominious. Instinctively 
I went to her and took her in my arms and lay between her 
and the bright glare. She misunderstood my intention and 
pushed me away. "Don't," she said harshly. "Can't you see 
we have no privacy here?" 


doubling my efforts. And during the following weeks I was up 
early and to bed late. Of course there was no time for my 
own proper work. Money was constantly going out and little 
coming in, but the house did show improvement. The back 
porch got screened in and painted, and our apartment upstairs 

a name for evil : 189 

was well under way, all except my office which I kept until 
last. That I would do alone. The wonder of it all was the 
way Ellen's spirits rose as the things got done. She seemed to 
have recovered entirely from her "breakdown," as she called 
it. She had even come to me and told me she would not let 
herself get out of hand again. My spirits rose too from this 
happy condition of our affairs, although there was a qualifica- 
tion to what I felt. Underneath this surface of good will and 
good heart I could feel from time to time the tremors of the 
earth we, so to speak, stood on. Well, the quake of which they 
were the forewarning was not long in coming. 

My ear was to the ground, but I had allowed myself to drift 
into the state of hearing without translating the meaning of 
what I heard. I merely stored away the recordings without 
comment in that part of the mind where records are kept. 
Ellen's pleasure in what had been done blinded me to how 
little it was in relation to what we still had to do. There were 
as well growing doubts in my mind as to whether we would 
ever be able to complete the house's regeneration. The cost 
was mounting and fast mounting beyond my capacity to pay. 
If it was to be finished, we would have to do of necessity what 
once had seemed a labor of love; that is, do a great part of the 
work ourselves. This would take years out of our life and 
make of these years confusion and disorder, for a house must 
be so arranged that there is a place for everything. How could 
a well-ordered menage function with everything topsy-turvy, 
with tools and lumber all over and debris scattered about? 
To set up the rooms as they were for living was out of the 
question. In the urgency of the daily crisis we would have to 
put off until the suitable time (which never comes) our in- 
tended restoration, until at last like the tenants who had gone 
before we would grow accustomed to our surroundings and 

190 : a name for evil 

carry a step farther, because of our corruption, the progress 
of ruin. 

So Ellen's first gloomy prophecy in the light of the actual 
situation seemed truer than her more recent optimism. Even 
if by some miracle we brought the house to its former state, 
could we produce the conditions which had sustained it? Serv- 
ants are as necessary to a large establishment as bread to the 
body. These might conceivably be obtained, but would the 
land sustain them? The Grove at its heyday was a going con- 
cern in every way. No money was brought in from the outside 
to run it. The land maintained the economy of the house, 
its hospitality and gracious living. But since those days the 
country has become an extension of the town. Let us be frank. 
It is servile. Its mores, the price it gets for its products, the 
clothes it wears, almost what it thinks, are determined by an 
absentee master. You may name this master what you please. 
It matters little whether its elusive all-powerful mechanism is 
controlled by management or by labor. On either horn the 
farmer is gored. So among the many difficulties to be solved 
and got out of the way was the insoluble one of history. 

But sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. On this old 
saw I lived and moved, dealing with whatever situation came 
up, putting it through or compromising it, and enjoying the 
respite it gave us both. Late at night we would talk of the 
progress made that day and of the things still to do, or more 
often we fell into bed too weary for words and stumbled out 
at light to take up whatever came to hand. And so our life 
went at The Grove, swiftly, pleasantly, as only it can go when 
two people who love each other, who have quarreled and 
made up, are doing things together. That it was slow, that it 
was little, that the means to prosecute it were fast diminishing, 
lay like shadows at high noon, which the eye wonders at but 
dismisses in the bright swelter of the hour. 

a name for evil : 191 

The very brightness of this period, as I try to recall it, seems 
brief enough, scarcely more than a flash before the gloom 
which settled down. I remember no clear division between the 
night and the day of our ordeal. The change came suddenly, 
like the turning out of a light. What followed was the endless 
groping in the dark, when the familiar landmarks of the room 
turn strange, and the terror is greater for the knowledge that 
all you touch should be familiar. The darkness then seems no 
longer confined but the very core of night's wide spaces. 

Often during this time I found myself thinking of my pred- 
ecessor. I can call him that, for those who dwelt at The Grove 
between his time and mine might as well have never lived for 
any thought I gave them. I thought of him with envy and 
sometimes almost with hatred, for he had had all I was denied. 
I could almost see him beyond the grave willing me to make 
him immortal. The Grove was his conception. It bore the 
stamp of his mind and his will. And his mind and his will / 
was restoring and the better I did it the more I submerged my 
personality and the greener his kept. If into his habitation 
I could have established my family after the fashion of my 
hopes, I could have mocked him. The probability of my 
failure and his success haunted me. Was he really a better 
man than I? Could I in his place and in his time have done 
as well? Could he have coped with the situation, if our roles 
had been reversed? I could never make up my mind to these 
questions. At times I fell back on the frail comfort that I had 
undertaken an impossible job. But always the element of 
doubt crept in to plague me, for given any set of limitations 
one man will succeed where another fails. 

The Grove had one feature which somehow had escaped 
the careless hands that had misguided so much else. It was 
the way the lawn sloped away from the house until it lost 
itself in a fine woods. Ellen and I had formed the habit, when 

192 : a name for evil 
the going got especially tough, of walking away from our 
troubles into the cool green spaces, where we strolled for hours 
on end. And always we returned refreshed to the battle. One 
evening about dusk, coming from the fields with the day's 
work behind, I passed through these woods on the way to the 
house. As I stepped out onto the lawn, I came instinctively 
to a dead stop. I say instinctively, but even now I do not know 
whether at first I felt or saw what confronted me. In one of 
the arches of the upper gallery stood the figure of a man. It 
stood in the arch which framed the door leading into the 
room we were doing over for Ellen. The house was a fair 
distance away, but through the cedars, as one must see it from 
my position, it appeared farther than it was. So it happened 
I could not quite make out the person's features. My first im- 
pression was that it was some guest looking over our improve- 
ments. I waved my hand and hurried across the lawn to greet 
him. When we first moved to the country, many of our 
acquaintances and friends made trips to see us. Their curiosity 
once satisfied they rarely braved the bad roads to make a 
second visit. But they were always welcome and so I went 
forward with pleasant anticipations. At that time of day 
objects are clear enough but the detail is blurred; so I had 
gone a little way before two things came to me, as it happened, 
almost instantaneously: one, that my greeting had not been 
returned; and two, that there was no car in the driveway by 
which a guest could have arrived. 

The shock of this double surprise slowed my steps and I 
came again to a halt. As I try now to remember it, the shock 
I felt was not at first very great. It was more a feeling of things 
being not quite right. It never occurred to me at the moment 
to wonder how this man got on the upper gallery. I assumed 
that he had made himself known to Ellen and had given her 

a name for evil : 193 

a satisfactory explanation of his business there, or she would 
not have let him in. Our situation was remote enough, so that 
I felt little danger from the gentlemen of no location who 
wander the highways. We were definitely on a byway; still I 
had warned her to be circumspect about strangers. If they 
happened upon us all the more reason for caution, since their 
mere presence would demand a clear explanation. What 
changed almost in a breath my puzzlement to alarm came 
out of, or made, the chill in the air which tightened my skin 
and made it tingle with fear. I had stopped beneath one of 
the giant cedars and from this position I had a direct and 
unimpeded view of the house. I could see and what I saw in- 
tensified my feeling of things not being right to a positive 
knowledge of something being very wrong. What I got first 
on the rebound was the certainty that I had never before seen 
the figure who was making himself so free of my house. As 
this struck me, it also struck me that he had all the air of one 
whose right to be where he was could never be questioned. 
The synthesis of the eye makes the analysis of statement slow 
and cumbrous, so that what I now report in detail miscon- 
strues by the limitations of print the exact intensity of the 
emotions which fixed me to the spot. 

My first impulse was to call out; but, realizing that he had 
not yet seen me, I took advantage of this to spy on him. I 
suppose this was my intention. It may have been I needed 
time to collect my wits. I know I froze as animals do when they 
sense danger, swallowed up by the frightful quiet which 
seemed all the more sinister for being a grotesque mockery 
of the dying away, the closing up of sound, common to the 
day's end. But the quiet into which I had sunk, which made 
my breath seem gross and noisy, although I scarcely breathed, 
was the quiet of the wave's trough or that moment of breath- 

194 : a name for evil 

lessness when a high wind shuts off suddenly to gather itself 
for greater fury. 

Across the space which joined us I tried to catch his gaze 
moving slowly in my direction. But it passed above me as if 
I were not there, pausing not even for an instant of recogni- 
tion, all the while restlessly scanning the woods behind me. 
How can I say how long this took? Time passed, but also my 
recognition of it. This I know, time enough for me to see 
him so clearly as to make friends of a lifetime seem shadowy 
strangers passed in the street. I saw that he wore a hat — wide- 
brimmed and black — but no tie or collar. One hand grasped 
a staff, the other hung at his side. There was no movement of 
neck or head, only the lustrous eyes, restless, searching, boring 
the woods like gimlets. 

My intolerable situation pressed on me. I opened my mouth 
to call out, but even as I did so, he turned away and delib- 
erately, as if he knew the way, walked in the direction of my 
study. He passed behind an arch. I waited the seconds it would 
take him to come out on the other side. I waited. I strained 
my eyes. All to no purpose. He passed behind the arch. He did 
not come out on the other side. 




I ran for the house I had the feeling that I had waited too 
long. In one step I was on the porch. Another took me into 
the hall. I bounded up the stairs and down the drops of the 
gallery porch. Nothing did I see. Cautiously I put my hand 

a name for evil : 195 

on the knob of the door to my study and flung it back. What 
I would have done had I surprised a vicious marauder I can- 
not say, for I had not stopped to pick up even a stick. Luckily, 
or unluckily — the edge of truth is finely drawn in such con- 
tingencies — I faced an empty room. I looked all through it, 
behind the door, into closets meant for bookcases, I looked 
under my desk, but in all this frenzied search I found just 
what I knew I would find — nothing. 

I told myself I must be thorough. There was the upstairs 
apartment to go through. No opportunity for doubt must be 
left lurking in my consciousness to trouble me, now that the 
swell of what I had felt growing about us at The Grove had 
at last exploded in my face. I had lost that first charge of fear. 
Almost I felt a deep relief, a kind of courage I never knew I 
had. Here was something which would call up to the very last 
reserve my manhood. No more plumbers and carpenters, no 
more painters and paper hangers to try the patience of a 
dozen Jobs. Here was drama, with the first act started, and 
the protagonist on the stage. 

I ran into Ellen outside my door. By now the world had 
reached the division between night and day, those few short 
minutes when the sky has just enough light to show up the 
dark, before it closes in. The moment we met I noticed she 
was a little out of breath, but what drove all else away was 
the look of her face. By reflection I saw how I must have ap- 
peared to her. "What in the world is the matter?" she asked. 

"Do I look that bad?" 

"Terrible, Henry." 

"Terrible?" I was playing for time. 

"You look like a ghost." 

I looked at her sharply. "And how does a ghost look? Have 
you ever seen one?" 

196 : a name for evil 

"Don't be silly. Come on down to supper before it ruins." 
Her words made me certain that I alone at The Grove had 
seen the intruder. I had sensed this fact, if you will, even 
before she appeared on the gallery. But what occupied me 
at the moment, as I hung back, was whether to tell her or 
keep my counsel. I was not long in reaching a decision. It 
came to me in one of those flashes of intuition which pre- 
determine strategy that Ellen must not know. At least not 
for the present, certainly not until I had had time to reflect, 
to sound the depths of whatever waters we were treading. 
This meant of course that I could not at that moment search 
the upstairs apartment. But, at once I reflected, there is the 
back stairs which opened an easy and quick escape. The 
visitor no doubt had already, had in fact before I arrived on 
the scene, disappeared into the anonymous regions from 
which he had come. So with alacrity I took Ellen's hand and 
led her down to supper. I went with the more willingness be- 
cause I carried away one unshaken conviction. I would not be 
too late next time. 

The strangest result of the whole encounter, among the 
numerous possibilities it opened up, was my part in it: that 
is, the change which came over me. It was the exact opposite 
to what one might have expected. My anxiety, my frustra- 
tions, all my gloomy preoccupations with my problem, every 
one of them left me. The business which had plagued me, 
had sent me endless miles on fruitless errands, still existed. 
The need to keep at it was no less urgent than it had been. 
The house still showed its state of limited repair, the farm 
work still moved on its original halting lines; the shift from a 
romantic preconception to actuality continued to rule our 
lives. Nothing had changed, and yet I had. All of this 
bothered me not at all. I was like a man aroused from the 

a name for evil : 197 

sleep of haunting dreams to a fair, brisk, and sunny day. And 
yet the reverse of all this came nearer the truth. I imitated 
Pilate. I did not examine the truth; I washed my hands of it. 

How shall I describe the ensuing days? In this wonderful, 
almost miraculous, metamorphosis of feeling, of attitude, 
even of temperament which I had undergone, I let the 
problems which were arising daily more or less work them- 
selves out. And work themselves out they did, after a fashion. 
This allowed me time for Ellen's society. It was only then, in 
the happy moments we spent together, that I understood 
how lonely she had been and how empty of the smaller 
pleasures my endless trips had made her life. 

With Johnny's help we spent several weeks finishing the 
apartment. He could spare certain days from farm work as he 
had three stout boys to help him make his crop. Except for a 
local paper hanger and a cabinetmaker of some skill we did 
the entire job ourselves. I was particularly proud of the floors. 
These fell to me. I rented a sander, worked them down, filled 
them, steel-wooled them, shellacked them, steel-wooled them 
again, and finally waxed and polished them. I have been 
rapid in the telling of it, but it was the hardest work I have 
ever done in all my life, and it was worth it. The floors were of 
wide ash boards, and when I got through they shone like 
satin. We rather splurged on the rugs and draperies, taking 
the money laid aside for the whole upstairs. As I report it 
here, we seemed madly extravagant, but we had set ourselves 
high standards. The house deserved the best and with com- 
plete agreement we decided to do what we did well, even if it 
took years to whip the interior into shape. 

I still think this was the only way, the bold way, to ap- 
proach our problem. Could we be held to account if we fell 
into the error of judgment common to all doers-over of old 

198 : a name for evil 

houses — underestimating the cost? I think not. With the 
apartment in such shape that an honest decorator would find 
little to criticize we had established a strong point inside the 
enemy's lines. Within the walls of the three rooms we could 
follow the small but so important habits of civilized living. 
To this sanctuary we could retire, bind up our wounds, and 
rest. And from here we could return refreshed to the battle. 
With this surely gained, what was to keep us from extending 
ourselves so that gradually we would set to rights the chaos 
of ruin everywhere about? What indeed? This was the ques- 
tion I asked in the days to come and from every side ap- 
proached for an answer. 



so to speak, my imaginative breath. I must be sure that what I 
now relate has above all the correct emphasis. If I have for- 
gotten the order, if I have misunderstood the least step, even, 
in the progress of events so rapidly advancing toward their 
fulfillment, I place myself in the way of fresh perils. Only this 
time the perils are quite definitely of the soul. Never before 
has the risk of judgment so involved the risk of damnation, 
for if the truth I now disclose be not the truth but falsehood 
disguised in the habiliments of innocence, what then am I? 

Doing things together brought us, as I thought, so 
close together that it made out of companionship a lovely 
harmony which is often lacking in married couples well away 
from the apprenticeship of the honeymoon. We felt as do peo- 

a name for evil : 199 

pie who, thinking they have lost a fortune, prepare for the 
dark dread of poverty only to discover that the fortune risked, 
instead of being lost, has returned tenfold. The evidence of 
this would seem commonplace enough — no more than the 
comforts and petty luxuries of civilized needs which the 
apartment now allowed us, or rather gave back tremendously 
enhanced in value by the recent deprivation we had suffered. 
How shall I put it? The excitement and relief we shared will 
seem all out of proportion to the material value of our pos- 
sessions. They were, indeed, little more than what a good 
salaried man in this preposterously wealthy country might 
command. There were soft rugs at our feet instead of dusty 
floors. There were curtains, beautiful to be sure, hanging at 
our windows. But who lacks curtains? We had a fine old bed, 
inherited but done over at our expense and with good 
springs, but still any traveling salesman might sleep as well. 

We did have the advantage of Ellen's taste, and we did 
have something to work with which gave our quarters a dis- 
tinction all the chromium plate in the world couldn't match. 
And at last we could keep the rooms clean. In the rest of the 
house this was a backbreaking job and one which got us no- 
where. For all the sweeping, dust, that sign of abandonment, 
persisted. But now we passed from Ellen's room into her sit- 
ting room on clean beautiful floors, and from there across the 
corridor to my room. My room was less extravagantly done 
over; yet it was done over. But above all this our situation 
had a very special quality: on the one hand there was the 
apartment, on the other the rest of the house. In this sentence 
I have posited two worlds. The apartment allowed us to go 
on. It had blessed privacy. It was at times our refuge. It would 
come to have the grim tension of an embattled fortress. 

One of the many disillusionments in which are contained 

200 : a name for evil 

the successive small shocks of life is the habit of growing ac- 
customed to what falls your way. So it was that before many 
days I grew somewhat accustomed to the apartment. I modify 
this rather unctuous pronouncement by "somewhat," for the 
tremendous difficulties of our undertaking never let me take 
our gains too complacently. This produced in me a curious 
reaction. There were moments when I was acutely sensitive 
to our predicament, but most of the time I wandered about 
in a state of lethargy. Ellen had plans for the kitchen and 
dining room, but she could not rouse me to tackle them. I 
always put her off. Looking back on it, I can best describe my 
state of mind as that of one anxious to enjoy the newness of 
accomplishment before it dulled. I felt, if I felt anything, that 
there was time for the rest — of course there is never time — or 
perhaps I felt I must allow nothing to disturb the exquisite 
pleasure of being with Ellen and having the leisure to satiate 
myself with her company in surroundings at last proper to 
her beauty and grace. I would sit in a comfortable chair, with 
my leg thrown over its arm and watch her at her toilet. I 
feasted my eyes not as an adolescent who eats until he cloys, 
gulping down the senses when they are keenest, but with a 
more deliberate taste. And yet for the moment I had restored 
my senses to an acute freshness, while practicing the melan- 
choly ritual of enjoyment, knowing it would not last. At 
times it seemed enough merely to watch her pass across the 
room. She had a dressing gown, I remember, of some thin 
blue stuff over pink, which clung to her or fell away as she 
walked, confusing the eye with the delicate change of color. 
Out from under it moved her little feet. Usually I was aware 
only of their positive outward thrusts. But one day my eyes 
fastened on them to enjoy their singularity. I saw the slippers 
she wore, woven leather of gold and silver gilt, sink into the 

a name for evil : 201 

deep new nap of the rug. The slippers were old and tar- 
nished. Suddenly, as if I might defend her against this warn- 
ing of our predicament, I took her in my arms and held her 

"Darling," she cried. "Don't." 

It took me several seconds for her appeal to register. I freed 
her slowly and sank back into my chair, listless and oppressed. 

I do not want to leave the impression, certainly it would 
be a false one, that I did nothing but loll in luxurious fashion 
with my wife. I managed some work of my own, in my study, 
and I attended to the farm business. This last now took less 
time. I went to the fields only half as much, which was due in 
part to my better knowledge of the farm's routine and to 
what I might expect of the tenants. But most of this extra 
time came from Johnny's frequent appearance about the 
house. He seemed to take an interest in our venture and a 
genuine liking for Ellen. He had managed some way to get 
her a girl to help in the kitchen and without saying a word 
added the care of the apartment to that of the study. Seeing 
him more frequently allowed me to dispose of details of farm 
business which ordinarily would have taken me out. 

One evening about milking time he came up to tell me 
the cows had got out. There were few fences on the place. I 
had not been able to get wire or posts; we had done the 
best we could with patching up, but good eaters, and they 
always make good milkers, will push through an old fence to 
greener stuff on the other side. The tale he had to tell was of 
an irate neighbor. The man, a Swede, and amiable enough 
himself but dominated by a wife who stood very much on 
her rights, had found the cows in his alfalfa. It was time to 
milk and the Swede had impounded the herd. Johnny sus- 

202 : a name for evil 

pected the Swede's wife had her eye on the extra milk, so 
nothing would do but I must go and free our stock. 

In my haste I was well into the yard before I discovered I 
had forgotten my hat. Johnny glanced politely but signifi- 
cantly at my head. I at once turned around and, thinking fast, 
remembered I had left it on a chair in my office. It is a 
peculiarity of mine to dislike hats, an oddity which goes un- 
noticed in the opportunism of urban life. In the country, 
however, for a man of my station to go about the place un- 
covered, which I frequently did, made me seem odd enough 
to my neighbors, almost an outlander, at the least a man of 
eccentric habits and therefore of doubtful consequence. To 
go abroad in such a state of undress, on so formal and delicate 
a matter, would have put me in a highly disadvantageous 
position for the business which pressed for settlement. 

So I hurried upstairs to the study. How little a man knows 
what he will find when he seeks. The moment I stepped into 
the room I felt a change come over it, a sudden drop, as if 
all the air had fled out of it. I was the only solid thing left, 
as heavy as marble and gross as lead, the center of a vacuum 
into which, on the instant, a stillness rushed, impalpable, 
impenetrable, and charged with the threat of an unnamable 
evil. The evil was not long in defining itself. How I knew 
it, or when it became clear, I cannot say, but I felt I was 
being watched by unseen eyes. I felt what all feel who suffer 
such exposure, the terrible compulsion to confront it. I knew 
exactly, with the sixth sense which warns, the direction of 
the intrusion: the north window above the outside stair- 
way. I stood in a direct line of its view. Between me and it 
stood a desk. Casually I strolled forward and cunningly pre- 
tended to search among the papers which littered the desk's 
top; and then slowly, without moving my head, I raised my 

a name for evil : 203 

eyes. I brought them up until they reached the height at 
which I thought to find whatever I had to meet. I met noth- 
ing but an uninterrupted view of the encroaching dusk. At 
eye level the window lights were as transparent as glass can 

But yet I was not freed. The same pull of that mysterious 
tension, fluid as water, strong as gut, drew my eyes yet up- 
ward. And there at the very top of the window, just out from 
the edge of one of the blinds which had blown to, I saw a 
face. It pressed against the pane in passionate anguish, its 
nose crushed white and its eyes, as limpid as a hawk's and 
dark as sin, leveled upon mine. I did not waver. I gave it 
back as straight a stare as it gave me. And then into my stare 
it vanished. It was there: it was not there, so sudden do these 
intruders complete their visitations. But it lasted the strokes 
my heart beat out the world's dark rhythm, an interval long 
enough for me to know all I had to know. Although the 
evening was rapidly falling, I saw as brightly as in a vision, 
with an unimpeachable certainty, that the face belonged to 
the visitor I had first met in the gallery's arch. But the hor- 
rible discovery, which attested to the rapid advance in our 
relationship, lay just in the stare he gave me and I gave back. 
Whatever he sought, whatever his business there, it was not 
with me. It comes back, as I recount it, with all the im- 
mediacy of the actual experience — it comes back in the 
intimacy I was made to feel with him. When his glance left 
mine to travel over the room, I was ignored as if I did not 
exist, or as if I were so deep in his purpose as to be his other 
self. It was this affront which banished the shock of this 
second encounter and sent me flying out of the room to over- 
take him before he could vanish — this and the knowledge 
that he had come there to do harm. I arrived on the back 

204 : a name for evil 

stairs in less than five seconds, but the stranger was nowhere 
to be seen. 

The stairway made a curve which brought it under the 
shelter of the kitchen porch. Down the stairs I bounded, but 
he was gone. I felt no relief at this but anger that a second 
time he had escaped me. For form's sake I searched the back 
premises, I remounted the stairs and took a farther view. 
There were shrubs and outhouses and the old garden wall, 
behind which he could have hidden, but it came to me in 
that moment of search that he was not to be found in any 
such places. I drew out of the deep knowledge of the experi- 
ence that I was the key to what he sought. I was the door 
through which he must pass to his loathsome desire. When I 
understood this, I was possessed of the calm, almost the com- 
fort, which follows the dread of the unknown threat at last 
brought out and channelized. 

Now that I knew my adversary, for it never occurred to 
me that he could be other than this, I decided to study him. 
This brought the impulse to see how he had so easily placed 
himself at the point of vantage to see into the room. The 
chimney narrowed at the level of the floor. I stepped upon it 
and with my hand on the blind peered around, just as I 
had seen him do. I found that my face fell a good foot below 
the face I had seen, but it evidently was high enough to 
frighten Johnny, who had at that moment come into the 
room, no doubt to see what had delayed me. I saw him stop 
in his tracks as I had stopped, and stare just as I had stared. 
His face could not pale, but it looked overlaid with a thin 
film of wood ashes. By that I could measure the degree of 
his fright. He turned on his heel and fled the room. I got 
down in time to meet him. 

" Tore God, Mister Brent," he said, "what ails you?" 

a name for evil : 205 

"What ails all men," I said, enjoying in my grim way the 
little scene about to be enacted. 

"It ain't dat," he came back at me more vigorously than I 
had ever known him to. 

"It's not, Johnny?" I returned with just a shade of irony. 

"You ain't hongry, and you ain't daid." 

"No, I 'ain't hongry' and I 'ain't dead,' but what would 
you say if I told you I had met, eye to eye, one foot above 
where you saw my face, pressing against the glass in pain and 
in desire, the one thing more drawing than hunger, the only 
thing as irrevocable as death?" 

"Yes, sir," he said, his eyes opened to the yellow balls, and 
unfocused, like one aroused in the middle of the night. 

"Why don't you ask me what it is? Don't you want to 

"What it?" he asked gruffly. His voice measured the 
strength of his emotion, strong enough, and that was strong 
indeed, to make him forget the amenities. 

"Fate," I said. 

I could see his relief as his body relaxed. But he was still 
not quite reassured. He did not know the word, but he 
thought it might disguise a more homely terror he would be 
able to recognize. His shoulders leaned slightly forward. 
"What do hit look like?" He asked. 

"What does it look like?" I paused for the pure pleasure of 
it. "The terror of the deep." 

"Yessir, but can you handle it?" 

"I will know that perhaps too late." 

He thought awhile and then with great dignity, restored 
to his manners and feeling the security of their limits, he 
said, "Mr. Brent, please sir, would you name it to me in your 
own words?" 

206 : a name for evil 

"You mean, will I make you see it?" 

"I don't rightly know as I wants to see hit. I wants to know 
what you seen." 

"The shape of terror?" 

"Yes, sir. Is hit big as you?" 

"A head taller," I said. "A handsome face but ravished." I 
saw him nod. "With deep black eyes, a long rangy body, a 
black round-brimmed hat on his head." 

"Yes, sir, yes, sir," he responded eagerly. 

"Wearing a coat such as . . . such as preachers wear." 

"Yes, sir." 

"And in his hands a staff, not that he needs it to walk 
with . . ." 

"Him need air thing to walk with!" 

"Then you've seen him?" I cried. 

"Seen him? Sho', I've seed him." 

"Where? Where?" I could feel my eyes glow with triumph. 

"Why, that's Major Brent," he said and then added quietly, 
"I sees him all the time." 



out with Johnny. Now that the issue was joined I must secure 
my rear. I must discover just where Johnny's loyalty lay. I 
must know what he saw, but more than that, exactly what 
communication existed between him and the former master 
of The Grove. I come right out with it. I do not speak of 
ghosts or apparitions, I speak of Major Brent. To give a name 

a name for evil : 207 

to evil, if it does nothing else, limits its range and that is 
the beginning of accepting it. A week passed before an op- 
portunity presented itself, the last week, as I remember, of 
July. Johnny had come up to tell me the corn and the tobacco 
had been worked over and to find what orders I had to give. 
We were in my study. I had him sit down in the chair op- 
posite my desk. As I opened the conversation I was surprised 
at the calm, matter-of-fact tone I assumed. I might have been 
a doctor inquiring into the nature of a disease. "You must tell 
me, Johnny," I said, "just what you see — and how often." 

He said rather too quickly, "I don't see nothen no more." 

I could tell he had foreseen this conference and had come 
with his answers ready. Of course I could not let it rest there, 
although I had already learned by his manner to me, a 
greater deference, one thing I wanted to know; the company 
I now kept, so he thought, gave me a status which assured me 
I should fear no treachery from within the citadel. But this 
was not quite all I wanted to know, so I continued, "At what 
times has this visitor to The Grove appeared to you?" 

He did not answer at once, but my eyes bored into him 
and held him locked in their vice. How shall I describe my 
feeling of power at this moment except to say I felt ageless? I 
held him until at last he spoke as one speaks out of sleep, 
his words bursting in a volley. "In de full of the moon." 

"Always so?" 

He nodded carefully. "Just befo'e d' moon change." 

"Ah," I breathed, and then like a pistol shot, "but where?" 

"Where ere he a mind to." 

"But where in particular?" I insisted. 

He thought awhile, then said, "Sometime he walk de fields, 
or sashay in and out'n the trees at the aidge of the woods." 

208 : a name for evil 

I put my arms on the desk and leaned forward. "Did you 
ever see him inside the house?" 

Cautiously he shook his head. 

"But never to have seen him is no reason to believe he 
doesn't go there?" 

"He know the way," he said. 

"Does he ever speak?" 

He shook his head again, then after a silence which seemed 
an emptiness rather than a break in time, he whispered, "He 
ain't need to." 

"You mean?" I prompted. 

"I knows what make him walk." 


"He doan rest easy." 

"And why doesn't he rest easy?" 

"All the meanness he done plague him." 

"Johnny, were you ever scared?" 

"No more'n to make me step light. I knowed I ain't done 
him no harm. I be layen in bed and tereckly I see he shadow 
flicker on the wall. 'Thar he,' I say. 'I must git up. He might 
need sumpum.' Sally Betts draw the quilts over her haid, but 
I gits up and pulls my clothes on. He'll go plunderen around 
and me followen." 

Johnny stopped talking as if he had said all there was to 
say. But I had not heard all. So I asked, " L What does he look 
like he's after?" 

"He look powerful sad. He look lak he druv the world 
away and tryen to git it back with a lump of sugar." 

"But what is it really, do you think, he is trying to get?" 

"He know," Johnny said abruptly. 

And that was all I could get out of him. When he left, I 
noted more particularly the niceness of his manner to me: it 

a name for evil : 209 

was the respect for and the deference to one who engages 
himself against impossible odds. This was of course easily ex- 
plained by the superstitions of all simple people. He as well 
left me assured on another point. I had been fairly certain 
that Johnny saw no more than all those who believe in ghosts 
see, that is, the shadow of their imaginations, filled by old 
stories, myths which grow like moss about the ruin of the 

But this was not what / saw. What I saw, I saw alone. I 
could in no way be complicated by my naive attendant. And 
yet it was clear he would be of use to me, for I must have 
some relief from my unbearable knowledge, and he could 
serve in just this. To shut up my mind, never to talk, would 
drive me beyond my strength. Ellen I could not approach. 
So on this, for the time, we parted, I having got from him 
what I wanted and he — well, I must have seemed a proprietor 
of a very singular property, whose lines held matter for 
perilous argument. 




particulars of Major Brent's past. It was not straining credu- 
lity to assign to him more than an ordinary life. However, I 
needed some clue, and this I knew I could get from Johnny. 
He had hinted at things. I wanted to bring out to the light, 
or to the darkness, of my predicament what lay concealed in 
his mind. At the first opportunity I cornered him. "What," I 
asked, "did you mean when you told me you knew what 

210 : a name for evil 

made Major Brent walk?" He returned my stare, the only 
movement in his face the cloudy film which closed over his 
eyes, hiding his humanity behind the mask he presented me. 
And so he stood and so I let him stand, in the sure knowledge 
that he would speak in the end, despite the mask, despite the 
depths of his natural and supernatural caution. I had ad- 
vanced very deeply in our relationship, for the magic of 
words had at last put him at my disposal. 

"I done tole you all I knows," he said. 

I knew this was the beginning of more, so I continued, to 
give him the momentum he needed. "Major Brent has 
singled me out, and I must find why. I have not turned aside, 
nor will I. This he suspects and it is for this he hates, perhaps 
fears, me. Whatever his power in the place he inhabits, in this 
world he is as helpless as my shadow, unless I make some 
blunder and through carelessness give him the substance he 
lacks. Now that you have spoken of him to me — " I said this 
slowly with great solemnity — "him you will never see again." 
I turned abruptly. "What does he lack that he disturbs my 

Johnny remained as motionless as some black idol, with 
the thick hands bent to the curve of work lying blocked out 
in his lap, but at last he began to talk. The words passing his 
beefy lips came simply and with compassion and with the 
vast relief of one who disburdens himself of a secret too 
dangerous to keep or to tell, except to the muted ears of a 
culprit about to mount the scaffold, where all must be anony- 
mous. In some such fashion, I felt, he considered me. 

"The old folks say he always hongry. Hongry befo'e he eat 
and hongry after he wipe he mouf and belch. He wo'e six 
women out and made husks of his chillurn. The boys was 
windbroke before they knowed what he done to'm. When the 

a name for evil : 211 

hands taken out the mules, they'd drap in the lot, too tared 
to wallow. And the boys 'ud drap, too tared to eat. But they 
never studied not minden him, and he kept tellen them, if 
they wanted him to give 'em anything, to hold fast to the 
plow." Johnny paused and looked beyond me, then: "Nair 
one of 'm taken time out to marry except the youngest and 
he pa drove him onto the big road. The boys wrinkled up, 
but the Major clicked his heels in the air." 

"Yes," I said. "What about the daughters?" 

"Miss Euphemy. She war his onliest gal. He never give her 
away. Couldn't find nobody good enough to suit him." 

Johnny lifted one hand and lay it heavily over the other 
and seemed to fall into a doze, but I brought him out of this 
subterfuge. "There is something you are keeping back," I 
said. "And Miss Euphemia?" 

"They say she taken to locken him in his room." He indi- 
cated my study as the place. 

"Why?" I was like an inquisitor. 

"That ain't for me to say." 

I received this rebuke in silence, which I tried to make as 
ominous as possible, and then Johnny cast his eyes down and 
said slowly, reverently, and no louder than a whisper, "One 
day Miss Euphemy called the boys to the house and said 
they pa was too feeble to walk. They must carry him to the 
fields. They lifted him in his cheer, with two poles run 
through it, and him setten up in the air dressed like a bride- 
groom. Them boys was already bio wed from the day's work, 
but he had'm tote him through ever' last field on the place. 
It was sundown when they come to the barley field." He 
hesitated, as if to recollect the exact details of the scene and 
then resumed. "He made them boys put postes in the ground 
and heist him on top of 'm. They swayed on their feets they 

212 : a name for evil 

was so weary, but he didn't offer to let 'm set down. He never 
said nothen for a spell, but just set there and looked around. 
It was a turrible fine year for grain. Except for the tobacco 
the whole place from line to line was yallow with barley and 
wheat and oats. And him jest setten there looken at hit, until 
the boys and the hands circlen around got nervious, for the 
sun was nigh to drappen. 

" 'Hit's purty and hit's mine,' he say. 'Hit's the purtiest 
crop I ever seen at The Grove and the biggest yield.' My pa 
heared him say them words. Then he stood up and taken one 
look around and dropped in his cheer. The postes rocked, but 
didn't nobody come nigh to sturdy 'm. It was gitten along 
towards dark before he roused hese'f again. 'Hit's taken me 
my life to do this,' he said. 'The Grove has done the mostest 
hit can ever do. I knowed they was a perfect crop in it. Look 
around you and see it, for you'll never see air other one.' The 
boys looked about 'm foolishlike, not knowing what the old 
man had in mind. But he warn't long in naming hit. He 
reached in his big pocket and pulled out a sack. 'Lemuel,' he 
called. 'Sir,' his son answered like a boy and him in his fifties. 
He pitched him the sack and Lemuel caught it. 'Amos,' he 
said, and Amos stepped forward. He pitched him a sack. And 
then he called Josh and Abner and pitched them a sack. I'm 
given you each a thousand dollars in gold for your hire. It 
will start you in the world, for this place you will never till 
again. It has reached perfection. It can do no more.' He come 
to a stop and nobody didn't know what to say, but he spoke 
up once more and for the last time. 'I want ever' stalk of 
grain to fall where it grows and ever hill of tobacco to rot 
where it stands. My everlasting displeasure to him that tries 
to reap what I sowed. Now you may take your pay and go.' " 

Johnny's voice stopped. 

a name for evil : 213 

"And ..." I said. 

"My pa said the hands slipped away and nair one looked 
back. And the boys stood around like chillurn who'd lost 
their way, and then they left. And my pa said he never seen 
sich a bright light on no old man's face. He looked like a 
body busten out of the creek all wet with glory. Then it come 
to Pa he war the last one there. He had to pull his feets out of 
the ground to run. He said he shet his eyes and run, and 
when he opened 'm again the dark had growed out'n the 
fields and swallowed up the house. He shuck all night, afeared 
for day to break. He knowed them fields 'ud be bare as he 

"And were they?" 

"Naw, sir. The fields was yallow as butter." 

"And Major Brent?" 

Johnny shook his head. "The cheer sot up 'ar in the air." 


I thought he would never get it out. 

"It sot up 'ar, plumb empty. And one crow roosten on 
hit's back." 



clue. I knew I would have to untangle it. My imagination 
whirled on the periphery of my predicament. It was not 
ready to plunge to the depths of the center of truth. I de- 
liberately refrained from making a premature decision. I 
drifted, if to circle slowly down the narrowing cone may be 

214 : a name for evil 

called drifting. There was time, but not too much time, to 
make decisions before the giddy swirl and the plunge and the 

The month of August went quietly enough on the surface. 
It was notable for one thing: the last opportunity for with- 
drawal. In the most cleverly conceived stratagems of doom, 
whether contrived by man or by supernatural powers, there 
comes a moment when escape is possible, a moment of clarity 
when the strain is released by its own tension. The way is 
always opened up by some incident in the daylight world, as 
plain, as restricted as a banker's books, and telling as little as 
do these books about the accounts they record. Though they 
tell little, without the understatement of such things as the 
double entry we would submerge ourselves hopelessly in the 
confusion of the multiple depths of our natures. The orderly 
life of individuals and society depends on the balance be- 
tween light and darkness. We perish only when the sun gets 
jammed at high noon or the moon glides forever at the full. 
The chance to withdraw came to us in an offer for the farm. 
It was as plain and direct as that. A mild land boom brought a 
buyer to our remote location. He offered me a modest profit 
over and above all that I had put into The Grove. I took this 
offer to Ellen. 

I found her in the kitchen. Tired of waiting for me to help, 
she had begun doing it over herself. Some way she had got 
together several girls of the neighborhood and they were 
painting the walls. She stepped down at my request from a 
stool, flushed from her work. A dash of paint spotted her 
cheek like a beauty spot. A strand of hair had got loose and 
lay fetchingly over her forehead. I saw her, as sometimes hap- 
pens, with the freshness of our first meeting. This sight of her 
brought with it as well the state of mind of our courtship, 

a name for evil : 215 

when the world seemed as giving as the demands we would 
make of it. It was an unhappy vision, for it weakened my re- 
solve to retreat. 

We sat on the porch and lighted cigarettes. 

"Isn't it going to be lovely?" she asked. 

"The kitchen?" 

"I've got it all planned. A double sink, shelves on the side, 
on the north end closets for brooms and things, and if you 
could only cut me a window . . ." 

"Before we do all this, I've something to tell you." 

"I know. We haven't the money. But, look, I can sell this 
ring. It's a rather nice one. I've got it all figured out. It will 
just, with careful planning, do what I want to do. I'd much 
rather my kitchen glittered than my hand. We don't go any- 
where any more." 

"Darling, I've had an offer for the farm." 

"Oh." A pause. "How much?" 

"A small profit." 

"Oh." Another pause. "If it were a lot of money . . ." 

"Of course if we really want to stay here. It's only a chance 
to get out without a loss." 

"Do you want to leave?" she asked. "I had no idea such a 
thought had entered your mind." 

I evaded her question. "I only thought I had got you into 
something tougher than I knew. I'm offering you a chance to 
get out with honor." 

"Don't say me, darling. You got us into something, a some- 
thing I'm rather beginning to like." 

"I must point out," I went on, "the tremendous job still 

She thought for a while. "Well, darling, whatever you 
think we ought to do." 

216 : a name for evil 

"You know how I hate to turn loose, but you've been 
rather on my conscience." 

"Why should I be on your conscience?" She looked at me 

Hastily I said, "It's not that altogether. I've doubts about 


"Well, I'm not sure I can handle it, that I can, well, make 
you happy here." 

She got up. We strolled out onto the lawn and sat under 
one of the large cedars. Elsewhere in the world which is 
August it was dry. The corn was twisting in the fields, the 
pastures were dusty, and even at night the cattle lowed with 
distress. Everywhere the sun beat down in the direct scorch- 
ing way which only an August sun can do — everywhere ex- 
cept on our lawn. There is little shade to a cedar but there 
was plenty of walnut and oak to protect the grass. It was 
hot but there was still green for the eye to rest upon. Ellen 
leaned back against the trunk of the cedar. I lay on my back 
before her. 

"This is a pleasant place," I said, beguiled by the clarity 
of the sun and the sanity of the physical world, when it pauses 
at recess and its real nature goes out of mind. "This is a 
pleasant place," I repeated. 

"And it can be a fine place," she added. "I acted rather 
badly in the beginning," she went on, "but then I was over- 
whelmed. Now it seems simpler. I am happier. It is better for 
you than the town. There you always ran on the exhaustion 
of nerves. Perhaps in time we may have children." 

I put my arms about her waist. "You are the only reality," I 
said. "I don't care if we can't have children. Our life is mean- 

a name for evil : 217 

ing. Everything else is illusion. Nothing must take you away 
from me." 

Gently she released herself. "Darling, you make me a 
little afraid. Nothing is going to take me away from you." 

And so it was decided to stay on. As we went back to the 
house, hand in hand, the intruder seemed no more threaten- 
ing than a bad dream after breakfast and coffee. 

At the door we were met by the mailman. He had a regis- 
tered letter. I opened and read it. 

"What is it?" Ellen asked. 

"It's from my nephew Moss," I said. "He thinks he is going 
soon to be sent home from the South Pacific. It doesn't say 
why." I handed her the letter. She glanced through it. 

"He is rather brief, isn't he?" 

"I hope he is in no trouble," I said. 

"You can never tell what the military will do. Probably 
battle fatigue." And then she said cheerfully, "He can help 
with the house. It will do him good to do a little honest 

"Yes, yes," I said. "It will do him good. It will do us all 
good to see him." 

But as I went into the house, I carried with me a strange 
feeling of foreboding. 



false romanticism which had landed me so blithely into the 
bramblebush of history tempted me with the prospect of sue- 

218 : a name for evil 

cess. The actual undertaking as opposed to the idea had im- 
pressed on me the heroic nature of the work and, as with all 
sagas, the involvements with the supernatural. My initial en- 
counters with the shade of Major Brent, or whatever meta- 
morphosis he had assumed, found me possessed of a courage I 
didn't know I had and an exquisite awareness of horror 
whose depths sank below and beyond mortal knowledge. The 
secret awareness that I was no hero I buried. In the same 
grave I put the fear that my courage was unequal to the 
perils of my situation. In the blind panic which was my state 
of mind but which seemed, because of its long duration, a 
clear, lofty objectivity, I banished Major Brent to his proper 
habitat and forbade him to trespass again. My first presenti- 
ment that all was not right with my nephew Moss faded into 
the picture of him as my heir, and I longed for his arrival. It 
seems rather complicated even now, but it all came from my 
talk with Ellen and her desire to live at The Grove, which 
meant of course that all would be well with us and my love 
for her. I don't think that I understood how my original 
interest in the place had shifted its emphasis. I still thought 
of myself in all sincerity as occupied with the difficult prob- 
lems of regeneration. Our personal problems I took to be 
merely a variant on the central theme. But actually my in- 
terest now lay almost entirely and rather desperately in mak- 
ing The Grove seem attractive to Ellen. I was occupied with 
the usual American bourgeois habit, in spite of my ideas, in 
spite of my very principles, of giving my wife the comforts, 
the setting, the status equal to my love for her. In the begin- 
ning, when she went to pieces, the ruin of our love seemed 
imminent and my manhood threatened. Now that I see 
things so clearly I am certain that a loss of manhood was in- 
volved, for had I not caught from the infested air that disease 

a name for evil : 219 

of all latter-day Americans — to fail in a material way is to 
fail in manhood? 

In such fashion I allowed myself to be taken off guard. 
There are no other words for it. What devious ways does not 
an imperfect apprehension take us? Had I been put on record 
before a jury of sensible men — I do not say peers, for where 
in the sweepings of this continent could the peer to such 
extravagant individualism have been found — and had I been 
asked in the presence of the twelve, Can you do it? I at least 
would have paused and assessed the odds for what they were 
worth, for I am a man of vision. But how we blot out in the 
gloom of mad endeavor the light which by exposing will 
thwart us! 

And so it was, I say again in all honesty, I retired to my 
study where I worked every day and often far into the night 
at reviews and essays to get the material for our little cam- 
paign. I had had to borrow on the property to add to the sale 
of Ellen's ring, for it took a great deal to keep her in the 
frenzy of her work. She handled laborers better than I and, 
more quickly than I had dreamed, managed to finish the 
kitchen, the dining room, and get a start on the lower hall- 
way. I worked confidently and scarcely felt the pressure of our 
economic situation. And yet of course it was money I had 
on my mind, so much so that I didn't dare think of it, lest I 
think to what ruin and disaster its lack would bring us. 

And money did begin to come in, slowly at first in steady 
small sums, enough for the household expenses and a little 
laid by against the interest on the mortgage whose payment 
drew nearer with each ticking of the clock in the hall below. 
I raced my mind against the swinging of that round brass sun. 
It became an obsession with me. There endured such a 
synchronization between my mind and the clock's stroke that 

220 : a name for evil 

so long as I worked I could not hear it. But let me grow idle, 
or rest, it struck off with its impervious beat precious time 
forever lost. I now think I must have been a little mad. I dared 
not look the timepiece in the face but always hurried by with 
averted eye; yet I could never go fast enough. Once I thought 
by ignoring I had silenced it, but it stopped me in the door- 
way through which I fled. If only once it would miss a beat, 
but the unvarying regularity of the tick, the swing, and the 
tock drove me to desperate and inhuman work. Ellen ap- 
pealed to me, saying I would be ill. Not even she could divert 
me. I could point to the need and the proofs in the form of 
the checks I showed her. What I could not point to were the 
terribly inhuman odds I strove against, and I do not speak of 
material things, but of those regions where time is unknown. 
In no circumstances would I have broached the subject of 
those regions. The strangest comment on my state of mind 
was the way I was able to shut it out of my own thoughts. 
Its return came with the shock almost of a betrayal. I must 
have been asleep, how long I have no way of knowing, except 
that it was well after midnight — I had heard the stroke of that 
hour. My arms lay on the desk. They had disarranged the 
papers there and from the night sweat several pages of my 
novel still clung damply to my flesh. All I know is I found 
myself sitting erect and wide awake in the pressure of that 
alien and frigid atmosphere I had come to know and dread. 
My eyes were blurred from too much use of the tight sleep 
of the overtired, but they were clear enough to see through 
the open door the loathsome form of my guest. He hovered in 
the doorway to our apartment and I saw his left hand fumble 
as if he were trying to find the knob. So still was he, except 
for the purpose in that hand and arm, swollen to my view 
out of all proportion to the rest of his form, that I had the 

a name for evil : 221 

sickening illusion of the hypnotic sway of a snake practicing 
at the keyhole. My alarms and my disgust were equal. These 
overbore any thought of fear or courage. I was merely drawn 
to go forward and challenge him. 

I arose from the chair and it made a long creaking sound 
of pain. With this sound in my head I strode onto the gallery 
and stopped within a few paces of the shadowy figure whose 
back was still turned to me. But let it not be understood that 
the figure was in any way vague. The frightful presence could 
have been no clearer had it been day at its brightest hour. 
Slowly the hand withdrew from the keyhole and the arm, so 
easily did it move, floated to his side. By this I knew he had 
become aware of me and, feeling an exalted elation at this 
recognition, I waited for his next move. I waited in the alarm 
of the tremendous advance he had made in the freedom of 
the house, for only now, at a range so close I could have 
touched him, did some part of the meaning of his persistence 
grow clear to me. But I had no leisure to examine it. He had 

He had turned to face me. I did not waver nor fall back 
but, all taut, met him. At once, for there was no mistaking it, 
I sensed the change in his bearing to me. I was no longer ig- 
nored as I had been in that encounter in our study, where 
his examination of the room in my presence gave me the 
queer feeling that he took me for an accomplice. There was 
none of this. It was clear now that he recognized in me the 
sole obstacle to his desire. I got it all from the hollow depths 
of his stare. I remember nothing of the features, only his 
look of hatred and malevolence which somehow included 
himself as well as me. These are hit-or-miss words. There is 
nothing in the human catalogue of feeling which I can draw 
on for analogy. I knew this: his appearance which I already 

222 : a name for evil 

felt too much to bear grew yet more intense. It enveloped 
the space we stood in, or what became space some moments 
afterward, for here again I stumble over words. The air, if 
air it was, made a chill and a silence in which nothing 
existed. Even I felt no true sense of being. We were isolated 
in some intermediate world. Not a sound penetrated from 
the night outside it, where the actual darkness disclosed its 
imperfections before the true image enveloping me. Though 
in the world I was shut off from it, or to draw a finer distinc- 
tion, that part of the world where I was had been usurped 
by another. The chill was the dry chill of absolute aridity and 
the silence a silence of endless reaches where no sound was or 
ever would be. 

Then my senses whirled under the impact of meta- 
morphosis. I felt myself shift ground before a blast of heat. 
Perhaps I cried out, for the sudden contrast of what went 
before and what came after gave me a moment of pain. When 
I recovered myself, I saw that I was alone on the gallery, on a 
sultry August night, with not a breath of air stirring. 



another shock, coming so hard on the first that the impact of 
the second seemed only a continuation of the first. It was the 
revelation of the purpose behind the apparition's return. The 
shock was the sickening effect this intelligence had on me. It 
surged through me with the clarity of euphoria — his position 
at the door to the apartment where Ellen slept, the intention 

a name for evil : 223 

in that ghastly hand. I know now that even at the time of his 
first appearance I nurtured some such fear, never daring, be- 
cause of the insupportable implications it contained, to bring 
it up for candid inspection. 

There was no doubt now about its being full blown. I 
knew, even though I cannot tell you why I knew, that I had 
prevented some terrific act of violence, some dreadful adven- 
ture in which space and matter were involved. I suspected 
Major Brent as the agent, perhaps out of a devouring need, 
the self-appointed agent of doom. The word I know has lost 
in the soilure of too many tongues its meaning. This meaning 
I now restore. Say the word aloud. Believe you speak it for 
the first time and you will understand the terror of my com- 
prehension. You will understand my anxiety and reluctance 
to rush through the door and take Ellen in my arms, for, alas, 
I am earth-bound and subject to all the laws of matter. To 
defend what I loved against a force I could never reach — this 
was the excruciating nature of my torture. Had I even now 
lost her? Major Brent had vanished, but Ellen? I felt I had 
been in time, but could I — always this uncertainty — could I 
be sure? There was but one way to find out. Open the door 
and go forward into the room. This I did. 

Noiselessly the door swung inward and, dark though it was, 
I could feel myself pale at what I saw: Ellen swaying just 
inside, in the nightgown she had worn on our wedding night, 
her eyes open but still asleep. The gown moved lazily against 
her body, blown by the sultry air which the door in its passage 
had stirred. She gave a little gasp and stepped back as my 
hands grasped her. And so we stood for an instant as I tried 
to speak. What came from my mouth sounded like the cry 
of an animal in pain. At last I said the useless words, "Dar- 
ling, what are you doing here?" 

224 : a name for evil 

She said rather wanly, "I thought I heard you call. I must 
have been asleep." 

Gently, as one is careful of an invalid, I picked her up and 
laid her upon our bed. As I fumbled at the buttons of my 
shirt, she said, "Dear, I've had the most awful dream." 

"Yes, I know," I said. With great care I tried to calm my 

"But how can you know?" she asked. 

I did not answer. The buttons would not undo. 

"Oh," she said and her voice was clearer. "What made you 
tear your shirt? You've none too many." 

I mumbled something about the dark. I could not speak, I 
could not quiet the great perturbation in my heart until I 
lay beside her and had her body in my arms. Nothing but 
this old substantial truth could restore me. 

At last I was beside her and she received me. Calmed, I 
lay on my back in the empty heaviness of release. Only our 
fingers now entwined. Out of a great distance she said, "I 
thought you had forgotten." 

"Forgotten?" I repeated. 

"That this is our anniversary." 

I hedged. "How could you think that?" 

"You've seemed so . . . well, so absorbed. At times I feel 
you don't know I'm here." 

"You know what I've been doing. How I've had to." 

"That's just it. Do you have to be alone all the time?" 

I shifted ground. "Aren't you ..." I hesitated. 

"Happy?" she interposed and then her voice trailed off. 
When she spoke again, she seemed to speak out of some 
private truth. "Happiness. Oh, I don't know that that matters 

a name for evil : 225 

I pretended to be calm, but what agonizing considerations 
laid waste my peace of a few moments ago! My voice must 
have sounded queer to her. It sounded queer enough to me 
as I said, "Happiness doesn't matter?" 

"It's not that it doesn't matter. But there are other things." 

"Other things?" My voice was casual, except for a slight 

She turned and said with a kind of puzzled desperation, "I 
know you've got your writing to do, but, darling, you mustn't 
leave me alone so much." 

"I shall never let you out of my sight again." 

"I didn't mean all that, Henry." 

"What did you mean then?" 

She answered me in her own way, and I felt the pathos of 
her sad little gallantry, for what once had quieted all needs, 
answered all questions, had become itself the dark field of 
ultimate questioning. My head was still whirling with the 
various possibilities when at last her fingers fell loose from 
mine and I noticed the first misty smudge of day slide up the 
gap in the flowered curtains. In this faint light I looked at her 
pale lovely face, now closed to me in sleep. Had it closed to 
me forever? Had I, after all, been too late? Did the dis- 
sembling mask of sleep contain what I would find when the 
tale was all told? I probed into my consciousness, but it only 
gave back the wonder of my anguish and my desperate need. I 
longed for the future instant by instant, the flash of vision 
which would reveal my condemnation or my reprieve. I got 
the knowledge of a duller thing, the unhurried, unvarying 
lockstep which is time. If to this prison I resigned myself, it 
was not entirely without hope. Its restraining power re- 
strained also another. 

226 : a name for evil 



myself sitting up in bed, my heart in a stifled pounding from 
the sudden wrench to consciousness and the sense that I had 
missed some terribly important engagement. I saw that I was 
alone. The curtains were still drawn, but the quality of light 
shining through the flowered figures told me how much of 
the morning was already spent. Hard on this came the aware- 
ness that while I slept another had had the chance to enjoy 
the freedom of The Grove with that insolent display of famil- 
iarity which made me so long to throttle him. My need to do 
him physical violence was great and my impotence so ap- 
parent that, for a moment, my imagination gave body to that 
density of air which he assumed at the demand of infamous 

I threw on my clothes and rushed from the room. The 
hours I had been sleeping Ellen had been unguarded. What 
disaster might not come of it, if once he got through to her, I 
dared not think. She had felt influences. Of this I was sure, 
but I was equally sure that I had so far saved her an actual 

Once outside, in the gallery which lay between the study 
and the apartment, I paused an instant to decide which way 
to go. Never had I as now understood the full terror and 
meaning of time. To waste even a breath in a false start 
might be to lose all in the general waste of eternity. Short as 
it was, my hesitation allowed me to see through the open 
door to my study that someone was sitting at my desk. I ad- 
vanced and found my nephew Moss, completely at ease in 

a name for evil : 227 

my chair, after the manner of young men profligate of that one 
gift they will spend the rest of their lives regretting. "Have 
you seen Ellen?" I asked. To this day I am unsure what I got 
as answer, but my ears caught the phrase, "In the flower 
garden." Intuitively I knew I had the right direction. With 
no further greeting or welcome, I rushed on. 

The garden lay to the rear of my study. There was a stretch 
of lawn and then the wall. In other days one could have 
looked down into the garden, but it was so overgrown I did 
not pause but right off swung down the winding way. I had 
been inside it once, on my first visit when I came with the 
idea of buying The Grove. Intuitively I understood the temp- 
tations it would have for me and afterward stayed away. The 
degree to which a farm's economy can be brought is best 
judged by the flower garden. To have it at all is a luxury and 
evidence of discipline and sound management, for the garden 
needs attention always when the crops can least spare a hand 
from the fields. And of course it bespeaks that leisure which 
is the supreme attainment of civilized habits. I go as far, even, 
as to say that in the great ages the formal garden reflects the 
last refinements of the social pattern and, indeed, is the com- 
mentary that the age makes on itself. For what was Versailles 
laid out but to inter the feudality of France? Or what is any 
eighteenth-century garden but the very will of fashion, with 
its geometrical pattern, the clean little walks between the 
low, well-trimmed borders, that superior artifice where even 
the flowers seem denaturalized? But the house defines another 
truth. If it is old, it contains the whole tradition. One does 
not make a house. A house grows and as it grows binds to- 
gether the continuous past. Because I understood this, until 
I had house and land well in hand, I knew it were best to 
stay away from the place I now approached. 

228 : a name for evil 

The lock and chain had rusted together about the gate. 
But this was no hindrance. The wall had many gaps, where 
the brick had fallen into rubbish or had been robbed for 
various uses about the farm. Very quietly I pushed aside a 
straggly and overgrown box-bush, stepped over and was in- 
side. For a moment I forgot why I was there. The garden was 
not large, yet it was not small, nor was it exactly as I had 
remembered it. I had had the image of an old-fashioned gar- 
den but not the perfect symmetry I now found. Flowers and 
shrubs and weeds were all overgrown in a common tangle, 
and luxuriantly overgrown from the extraordinary richness 
of the ground, but beneath this wilderness the plan was clear. 
It had been laid out in a circle, with a round springhouse 
upon a mound as its hub. A serpent's head, carved of stone, 
rose up out of the little brick house, with jaws widespread 
and dripping water. Once the water must have poured, for 
there was still evidence of the conduit circling the beds, each 
group of plots increasing in size as they approached the en- 
closing wall. And just here was the final touch of art. The 
wall, hexagonal in shape, softened but did not alter the mean- 
ing of the design. I stood enthralled and a little dizzy from the 
impact of the mind able to conceive this, the utter daring, 
the brilliant imagination, the Satanic pride of it. I saw afresh 
with what an adversary I had to do and again, when I looked 
to the resources I had, I very nearly gave in to despair. But no 
matter what the odds the soldier's response to danger is 
professional — he acts. I was a kind of soldier: I remembered 
why I was there. Swiftly I searched the undergrowth. I looked 
with a sharper eye and what I saw wrenched me for a moment 
from my obsession. The garden was a dump heap. Rotten tin 
cans, broken bottles, rags, half a fireback, all littered the 
place. There were piles of ashes, pocked with bits of charcoal 

a name for evil : 229 

beaten to the surface by countless rains, and a thousand other 
objects of refuse tossed anywhere about. In the midst of this I 
saw Ellen. 

She was on the ground, in a cool white muslin frock, weed- 
ing one of the walkways. She did not see me as her head was 
bent to her work, and I was careful not to interrupt her. 
There was about her the air of innocence one thinks of as 
surrounding the sacrificial victim. Her hair had been brought 
up on her head, and I admired with the sweet sense of pos- 
session the purity of the lines of her neck, bent slightly 
around and down. Then my heart made that plunge of alarm, 
the infallible awareness of danger. It was all in the fierce 
rapidity of her hands and, in spite of the illusion of com- 
posure, a too rapt attention to what she did. All around her 
rose piles of weed and grass, neatly raked for the barrow. My 
gaze widened, startled at the amount of the garden she had 
cleaned, obviously more than one morning's work. I dared 
not reckon the number of hours, else I should have had to ask 
how she had done it at all. My wonderment grew into a ques- 
tion, Why had she made no mention of this to me? 

So I was warned but my comprehension was slow to focus. I 
found myself, of necessity, returning to her hands. They were 
my clue. Then as I watched, I saw them quicken as though 
she felt behind her the shadow of the taskmaster. The tension 
in her frail body was painful to see, and it all drew to a point 
in the speed of her fingers. Exquisite, fragile, they drove at 
the dirt under some dreadful compulsion. I took all this in 
as I took in the certain knowledge that another watched as 
well as I. A sodden chill rolled out of the depths of the under- 
growth, swirling in its circular track until it caught us up in 
the logic of its motion. All sounds of the bright morning fell 
away and, as they perished, so did my apprehension of the 

230 : a name for evil 

alien air I breathed. I was no more conscious of the fearful 
energy which underlay it than I would be aware, walking 
down a country lane, of the world revolving in space. The 
sick feeling I had had of violation, my helpless estrangement 
before it, now entirely disappeared. It was as one equal to all 
occasions that I slowly turned my head until, at last, it came 
to rest facing the garden's center. I paused to sharpen my will. 
I paused; then I lifted my eyes, brick by brick, up the slimy 
springhouse wall. 



course, as soon as I could get Ellen out of the garden and 
safely into the house. I shut the door and leaned against it for 
support. I had kept up my front in the garden. Only now did 
I give in to the aftereffects of my trial of nerve. 

"He has got through to her," I gasped to Moss. 

There had always been great sympathy between my 
nephew and me, but never did it show to better purpose than 
in this, my tacit appeal for help. He confused me by no stupid 
response, no tiresome questions. He merely leaned forward in 
his chair and waited for more. The mere sight of him, the 
wonderful feeling that I would no longer stand alone, this 
knowledge and the privacy of my room, restored somewhat 
my equilibrium. I had retired to my citadel and my faithful 
seneschal was at my side; or to draw a sharper figure, my heir. 

So it came about that what I had to divulge was given and 
received as a matter of family concern. It was the ease and 

a name for evil : 231 

grace of his reception that gave me the firm ground I needed, 
the familiar rapport which usually passes between father and 
son. Whatever the virtues of Moss Senior, and he was reputed 
to have many in certain circles, they did not thrive in his 
dealings with his son. My brother lived in the happily simple 
world where all things have a price, and the better the bar- 
gain the better the price, which is all very well, I suppose, if 
you don't drive bargains for the affection of your son. I 
never thought I would have sympathy for such limitations, 
but I fairly blessed them now as I quickly sketched for Moss 
the history of what had happened up to his appearance at 
The Grove. The boy's reception of my tale was so keen and 
ready it gave me the illusion of talking aloud to myself. "And 
so you see," I wound up, "I have failed, miserably failed." 

"Failed?" I rather felt than heard the question, so softly did 
it drift my way. 

"Yes, failed. To stand between Major Brent and his odious 

"What is . . ." 

"What is his purpose? It is also his desire." I fairly spat 
these out, so fresh was his fearsome image in my mind. 

"And that?" 

"I don't quite know. Oh, that I did!" I finished with a 
groan of perplexity. "I do know that it has to do with Ellen. 
Of this I am certain as I am certain of you, there, in my 

"How do you know?" 

"How? How? I saw." 

The shadow of a question crossed my nephew's eyes. It was 
plain I needed to be more circumstantial. "Not an hour ago, 
there in the garden, I beheld him with my eyes, like an evil 
smoke but also a solid, hovering above the springhouse. He 

232 : a name for evil 

filled my eyes and then went, like mist drying, down through 
the rotten floor." 

"Did . . ." 

"Did Ellen see? No, but she felt. She knew he was there." 


"I could tell by the look on his devilish face." 

"But if she didn't see?" 

"But I saw. The eager gleam, the contaminating look of 
his triumph." And I added in a low voice, at the marvel of it, 
"And it reached out like a solid thing and touched her. It 
was then I could stand no more. He disappeared." At the 
thought of this I fell silent, trembling before the memory of 
this hateful appearance. And as I looked across at Moss, I 
could see that it had welled up into my eyes by the reflection 
from his. More smoothly, for hatred is like hardening a stick 
by fire, I developed the line of my reasoning. "I had thought 
I stood between — he will not hold up to me, you see, he has 
his limitations too — but what I learned today is that some 
traffic has existed between them and for longer than I can 
know. What she did, what she was, in the garden showed me. 
And I have other cause to believe . . ." 

"You mean?" 

"We had a chance to sell the farm. She demurred, after 
having pleaded to get away. Now what could make her 
change her mind so suddenly?" 

And then I heard, "But how can he get at her?" 

"By making her want to come to him." 

"But how? An apparition to a mortal being." 

"It is one of the oldest stories. And who knows what 
promises he makes over the invisible lines of his communica- 
tion — enough," I added grimly, "to make her want to know 

a name for evil : 233 

"Then if she wants to know more . . ." 

"His spell is not quite wound up? Good!" I almost shouted. 
"That may be our way out. We must hold to that. If we can 
prevent another meeting . . . We must watch, you and I, 
every hour of the day and night." 

"I will watch at night," I heard. 

"And I by day." This gleam of hope brought me up sharp 
to the practical way of carrying out our plan. I asked, "Does 
Ellen know you are here?" 

He shook his head slowly and, for a moment, his eyes 
seemed to withdraw. With uncanny intuition I understood 
that he did not want her, or anyone, to know he was here. 
This brought me up to his own mysterious situation. His 
cryptic letter and then, without warning, his arrival. I looked 
more closely, berating myself for a too great preoccupation 
with my own affairs, and saw his travel-stained uniform, the 
dust and grime of the battlefield still on it, the pale look of 
strain and the jagged scar on his forehead running back into 
his head. I could not tell how far because of the blackness and 
the thickness of his hair. 

I saw at once how painful any questions of mine would be. 
Matter-of-factly I took it up where he had left off. "I will put 
you in the old office out there in the yard. Johnny will bring 
your food. No one — " I emphasized this — "no one need know 
you are here. It is better that way." 

On this we parted. I arose for my watch. It was understood 
that he would keep the study until night, when his would 

234 : a name for evil 




leisure to think how the tension would slacken now that Moss 
had come. But this very letting up gave me time to think, and 
for the first few days my thoughts were equally divided be- 
tween my wife and nephew. I cannot tell what a wonderful 
comfort he was unless I also tell what marred this comfort. If 
I had let myself go, I should have gone as far as alarm at his 
ambiguous appearance, his noncommittal silence about why 
he was here and not with his outfit. I gave him every chance 
to explain himself. I hinted at battle fatigue, at a well-de- 
served leave. I even went so far as to open a discussion of 
psychiatry as practiced officially by the Army, saying what an 
advance it had made over the old brutal methods which 
reduced human performance to the extremes of cowardice 
and bravery. But no matter how subtly I threw out these 
different leads not one of them did he take. He would smile, 
he would listen politely, he would make some general obser- 
vation — nothing more. I was forced to come back to my 
original impression: he was hiding at The Grove, but 
whether because of something he had done or something he 
feared might be done to him, I had to leave undecided. 

This I was willing to do. After all he was here, I needed 
him, I felt surer somehow of withstanding what there was to 
withstand, in spite of the rapid and perilous advance of dan- 
ger, which I never let out of my mind for a moment. It lay 
with me like a cold spring at the bottom of a pool. On the 
surface all was warm and even languid, but one had only to 
dive to know the shock of the chill beneath. I suppose I would 

a name for evil : 235 

have cracked up but for the respite I got from floating in the 
lukewarm upper surface. It seemed that everybody at The 
Grove conspired to keep me at ease, Ellen, Moss, and Johnny. 
I was touched at the way Johnny tried to rise to the occasion. 
When I told him the new duties I entrusted to him, he ac- 
cepted them with understanding. He cleaned out the office 
and set up a bed, pretending he needed it for a storehouse. 
But the most remarkable instance of his tact showed itself in 
the way he met Moss. I had brought Johnny up to the study, 
first warning him that no one must know that my nephew 
was there. I told him that only he and I knew it, that even 
Miss Ellen did not know, and that if by any chance it got out, 
I would know who had been indiscreet. I made no open 
threat, of course, but my manner was as grave and ominous as 
I could make it. This, I knew, would leave its impression, for 
Johnny had conceived a tremendous respect for the possibili- 
ties of my nature. Moss was standing by the bookcase, reading 
the titles there. I said, "Lad, this is Johnny. He will look 
after your needs." Johnny gave a quick glance to the corner 
where Moss was, stiffened slightly — only I would have noticed 
it — and then stood there with respectful dignity, hat in hand, 
looking not at but just to the side of Moss's position. In any 
other situation I would have smiled at his cunning. Nobody 
could trap him into admission of seeing anything, and yet 
his stance told me he was aware of everything. 

Moss turned, smiled in his charming way, and nodded; 
then he went back to the books. I never saw a more difficult 
situation handled by both parties with greater ease or discre- 
tion. My affection for them increased enormously and it 
became the seal to our common aim. It led me, without more 
ado, to probe farther into the last days of Major Brent on 
earth. Johnny had told me much, but there were gaps in the 

236 : a name for evil 

information and there was, as always, the confusing veil of 
legend. This I must strip away. "Monstrous on earth as in the 
void he inhabits," I began by way of soliloquy, for speaking 
the word often leads to truth which escapes the silent inquiry. 
Johnny heard but did not understand. Moss showed by his 
attention, a deeper stillness, that he listened. "For was it not 
monstrous in him to make such an end," I went on, "dis- 
possessing his inheritors and bringing his daughter barren to 
her shroud, and for himself committing or permitting that 
last affront to tradition, the unmarked grave. Does anyone 
know where he lies?" 

I put this to Johnny direct. I waited in the hiatus my ques- 
tion made and watched the bare shake of his head. "Ain't no 

"But he didn't just lie out like a heathen and let the crows 
pick his bones. Whatever his wish, whatever his need, he died 
in a Christian land." 

"Yessir," Johnny solemnly said, "I knows of some Chris- 
tians over towards Oak Grove." 

"The authorities would not permit it. There must be the 
record. The record is the state's evidence of self-perpetuation, 
the link between the past and the future." I paused to change 
the tone of voice. "There was bound to be investigation." 

I waited again. Johnny cast his eyes before him, covertly 
in the direction of Moss, showing his reluctance to talk about 
Major Brent in the presence of any witness, no matter how 
well recommended he came. But finally he said, "The High 
Sheriff knocked at Miss Euphemy's do'." 

"Ah, hah. That's what I have been waiting to hear." 

"And she come to de do'." 


"But hit taken right smart rappen on de do' to bring her. 

a name for evil : 237 

The High Sheriff nigh wo'e out his hat fanning. She opened 
de do' wide and shaded her eyes . . . so." Johnny lifted the 
stiff black fingers to his forehead and squinted as one might 
do who looks into smoke. "She looked over the High Sheriff's 
lef shoulder, she looked past his face, she looked over his 
right shoulder, and then she shet the do'." 

That, as far as I could gather, marked the extent to which 
the law ever went in attempting to implicate Miss Euphemia. 
The law must show cause and motive. The keepers of the 
peace must have felt that there was in Major Brent's act a 
threat to the general peace. But what had they to go on? An 
old man, by his own will, drives his sons away and, again by 
his own will, with witnesses to the fact, remains alone in the 
middle of his fields. And is never seen more. His very act 
was a symbol of social violence, but you can't bring a symbol 
into court. And deeding the land to Miss Euphemia was fur- 
ther proof of his intention, but the deed had been on record a 
year before his disappearance. All was regular. The proper 
heirs had no recourse, no expectation of aid from the authori- 
ties. They inherited a title, the Dispossessed, and nothing 
more but a hireling's pay. There would have been much 
whispering, many dark allusions to the barren woman who 
lived on at The Grove, who gave the name reality by letting 
the sassafras sprouts take the fields, but the real terror before 
which the keepers of the peace drew back lay in the meaning 
of the act itself. And this they had no way of dealing with. 

For what can the public guardians do but harden their 
souls and dance mincingly on the sharp blades of power? And 
at last fall and eunuch themselves, for the strongest heads 
grow giddy at last? And clean up the blood of the victim to 
make ready the altar for the next, for the victim they can 
neither commit nor save, led all decked in garlands and 

238 : a name for evil 

white, like innocence coming up for confirmation, but com- 
ing up to sacrifice and spilt blood to lay the oldest ghost of 
all, who will not lie but, like the absent lord, returns with 
the season to collect his dues? Pistol strapped to the bulging 
side, the ready grin on the florid face, the toothpick after 
meat, always they find themselves caught in the same 
dilemma. They hail the fornicator into court, but bastards 
drool on the doorsteps. They jail thieves, but the honor of 
the state is compromised by those who deal in its goods. As- 
saulters they fine, but broken heads mock them each Saturday 
night. If matters committed to their care, all actions plain 
to pragmatic eyes, go unresolved for all their resolutions and 
unchained for all their chains, what then could the High 
Sheriff do but cool his heels before the fact of a shut door 
which was not a fact at all but a threat and a symbol as old as 

"And where will it bring me," I said aloud, "this cold 
scent, but where all false trails lead — back upon myself?" 

"Ain't it the truf?" Johnny agreed and nodded wisely. 

And it was the truth and on this I dismissed Johnny who, 
as so often before, had put it squarely up to me, without in- 
criminating himself. 


M didn't let out, even to moss, HOW HOPELESS I FELT 
about poor Ellen. So long as I didn't put it into words, I could 
keep my courage up. Words have a way of fixing a thing and, 
once spoken, may not be taken back. But the scene I had 

a name for evil : 239 

happened on in the garden was too depressing, even, for 
courage. As I turned to the springhouse to meet what I had 
to meet, I gave my back to Ellen. The moment of release I 
whirled about and met . . . well, I met her eyes. A faint flush 
brushed her features which had been so pale when I first came 
into the garden. The strain was all gone, her hands hung limp 
above the work she had been doing, but it was the eyes which 
confessed so clearly my fears. There was no avoiding the 
truth of their stare: they had seen all I had seen and more. 

I went to her and lifted her to her feet. If then she had 
confessed openly and frankly, if she had told me even some- 
thing of her peril, I might have been able to save her. It 
was the moment for confidences, and for a fraction of the 
moment I thought she would throw herself into my arms 
and ask for aid. But the moment passed. She said instead 
with an engaging smile — what a brave effort at subterfuge it 
was — "My, you startled me." 

"I noticed," I replied, "your absorption." 

She said with strange self-confidence, "This was a place I 
didn't expect to see you." 

"And so you thought you were safe in slipping away." 


"And now I've spoiled it all." 

"Yes, you have spoiled it all." 

The very boldness of this took my breath away. If only she 
had spoken with brutal intent instead of after the old usage 
of husband and wife which, because of its falseness, seemed to 
me all the more terrifying! As she saw my confusion, she 
went on, she even tried gaiety. "You see, I was not yet ready 
for the grand surprise." 

I could only blurt out, "It was surprise enough." 

"Don't you think I'm smart?" 

240 : a name for evil 

"I have another word for it." 

Something in my tone caught her up, for she said quickly, 
"I mean, haven't I done a lot? And without you suspecting a 

"I haven't been completely blind, you know." 

"But you haven't known?" 


"I mean about the garden. What's been going on here." 

It was out between us now, in spite of the deliberate am- 
biguity of language. If I could only have torn away this last 
veil and heard the desperate truth, desperately spoken! It was 
on my tongue to say, "You think you have deceived me? But I 
know whom you meet and what he wants." But some feeling 
of caution held me back. I said instead, "Now, Ellen, this 
is too much." I waved my hand toward the walkways. "I'll 
send Johnny here to finish up. His crops are about laid by 
and the boys can help. I want you to stay closer to the house. 
I can watch you there." 

"Watch me, darling?" 

"Yes, see what you do." I thought I had carried the game a 
little far, so I added, "I need to have you near. Besides, this 
work is too hard for you." I picked up one of her hands. "It 
will ruin these. That would be a great loss to us both." 

Carefully she withdrew her hand. "You should have 
thought of that when you asked me to come here," she said. 

On the way back to the house she stopped once and said 
fiercely or so I was made to feel the passion in her utterance, 
"We have got to finish up. I have so little time." 

"Time? Time for what?" 

She did not answer me, but again I had that feeling of a 
confidence about to be made and looked my willingness to 

a name for evil : 241 

hear, to help, but she blushed and dropped her eyes and we 
went the rest of the way in silence. 

In the following days I was with Ellen so constantly that 
what the garden had shown faded out of my consciousness, as 
the prints of a photographer's proofs fade in the sun. And 
there was a great deal of sun, which made us think of picnics. 
The work downstairs had gone so well that Ellen felt we 
could relax occasionally. She would fix us lunches and we 
would take to the woods and spread a cloth and eat and talk. 
It was great pretense and fun. Once we went several miles 
away, off our land, to a nice creek we knew, and here we spent 
the day swimming and lying about in the sun. My spirits 
soared, I even hoped, and if my conscience hurt me, it was 
on account of Moss to whom I owed such pleasant days and 
dreamless nights. Once in a mood of confidence I almost 
slipped up and told her what guest we had in the house. "I 
have something to tell you, Ellen," I said. "You must try to 

"What, darling, have you been keeping back? You've not 
got some horrible woman tucked away on the back side of 
the farm, with Johnny standing guard. Johnny has been very 
mysterious lately." 

I caught myself up quickly enough. I took her hand. "No," 
I said. "It's just that I never really told you how much I 
love you." 

"Will you love me when I'm old and a hag?" 

"I'll love you always, no matter what." 

"No matter what at all?" 

"No matter what at all." I found I had grown suddenly 

"That's a large order, you know," she said slowly. 

"As long as you want my love, and even when you don't." 

242 : a name for evil 

"I shall always want it," she said, "and I am trying, you 
don't know how hard, to make you a good wife." Her eyes 
blurred and she dropped them, and her voice was low as she 
said, "But it is hard sometimes. There are things . . ." 

"Things?" I prompted. 

She leaned across the leavings of our lunch and kissed me. 
"If it could always be like this ... if we could stay always this 
close together ... if, if this were life and life not what it 
is . . ." 

"Once we thought . . ." 

"Yes, I know we thought that food and drink were a bore, 
something to fill out the interludes between love, that a 
house was a shelter, and that if we only followed the sun, we 
wouldn't need that." She turned to me a little sadly. "I re- 
member, you see. It is you who have forgotten." 

We were standing now. The sun flared with the false bril- 
liance which dies into dusk and it fell on the littered cloth 
at our feet. For a moment the reflection from the white cloth, 
falling across her body, made glary stains on her tan, and 
then it dazzled my eyes and I closed them. And out of the 
darkness I said, "No, I haven't forgotten. I've tried to make it 
stick, forgetting that the honeyed moon passes into leaner 
quarters and, as a man must who would hold his love, turn 
the shelter into a house. But when the house is another man's 
house, and you no proper heir, in spite of title deeds and 
nine-tenths of the law, you are no better than a guest." 

"I'm no guest," she said defiantly. 

"No," I replied, and there was all the sadness of our 
predicament in my voice as I said it, "you are no guest at 
The Grove." 

a name for evil : 243 




get hold of him, "that she was no guest at The Grove brings 
us straight back to the garden. If she is at home here, and I 
am not ... if she is mistress here ..." 

"Well, you are master." 

"This is no time for levity," I said rather irritably. 

"If not you, who then is?" 

I paused at the directness of this. There is nothing like the 
question direct to clear away the vagaries of loose thinking. I 
rather blushed at what I had been thinking: unconsciously 
I had accepted Johnny's superstitious belief that Major Brent 
was master. How absurd this was Moss's plain speaking had 
made me see, for who can believe in a private resurrection? 
The dead might return in its own proper air, but no man in 
his right wits could say that this air could take on body. I 
had, in truth, come to accept Major Brent without being able 
to define him. This had confused me. Had he not abandoned 
The Grove to sterility, to a withering up of the traditional 
vine? Did he not will it to die with him? Then why should I 
have ever thought that he longed for resurrection? For if my 
problem was regeneration, his could only be a rising up to 

"If not you, who then?" The question repeated itself. 

I replied out of my bemusement. "Perhaps no one." 

"No one?" 

I was made to feel a distinctly youthful tone in this. It 
might have been my own youth accusing me of the failure of 
middle years. I was faced with what all face who try to explain 

244 : a name for evil 

the complexities of human experience to the young. I com- 
promised as one does. I fell back on the logic of the situation. 
"Major Brent resents my presence here. You know his history. 
He returns out of a jealousy carried beyond the grave. Don't 
ask me yet why a shade can feel jealousy." 

"But it is Ellen he haunts. Not you." 

"And why not? Woman is the carrier of tradition. His own 
daughter he kept barren. If he could draw Ellen to him ..." 

"But how?" 

"By luring her to her death," I said abruptly. "Why else do 
we keep such strict watch?" 

"Is it for this we keep watch?" 

"For what else?" 

He said casually. "But death is such a common thing." 

There comes a time in all strain when the recoil and the 
blow seem but parts of the same movement. At first I could 
think no farther than the utter irrelevance of his remark. I 
had received him back as the boy I had known, the dearly 
beloved nephew who had always looked to me for guidance. I 
had forgotten the scalding pot of war into which he had 
plunged. And indeed he had a scalded look, the lacquerlike 
cast to the features I have sometimes seen on the face of the 
young who suffer too quickly and violently the ills of the 
world. In peacetime it is bad enough, the mark of the sophis- 
ticate, but in war it is far more sinister, the rushing of experi- 
ence over knowledge, a surface hardening and all soft 
confusion beneath. Sadly, as I regarded Moss, I understood 
that he was a casualty of war, one of those forbidden maturity, 
the process of curing which allows for the gradual mellowing 
of the sensibility. The truth was now plain. He had been 
cast out like spoiled meat. 

And I had made him my main dependence. This unex- 

a name for evil : 245 

pected complication compromised my whole strategy of de- 
fense, but for the moment I could only hedge. I said softly, 
as one speaks to an invalid, "Don't you think that's beside the 

But he looked at me out of his melancholy eyes and shook 
his head in a slow puzzled way. "It's everywhere, all the 
time," he said quietly. 

"Yes, I know, but . . ." 

"I had a friend. We were in the same hole. The water was 
up to our armpits. I looked away and when I looked back, I 
saw his head sinking into the water. I lifted him as well as I 
could. He was there but he was not there. I got no relief for 
sixteen hours. I just sat in the water with whatever it was 
left I sat with. It took up as much room as he did, but it 
wasn't him. I was life, but he wasn't even death. Death was 
the air which cut across the top of the hole. I knew I had 
only to lift my head a few inches to find it." 

"That was a terrible shock," I said. 

"I had another friend," he went on, ignoring me. "He was 
in my platoon. The platoon was stretched out with good 
intervals between the men. It had been quiet for some time. 
It was a quiet sector. We were talking up and down the line. 
He was some twenty yards away. He called down to me, 'Re- 
member . . .' then a shell dropped. I was knocked out by the 
concussion and when I came to, all covered with dirt and 
the smell, I saw a big hole where he had been. I called out 
his name before I could think. But he wasn't there. He wasn't 
anywhere. Just that big hole where he had been. I felt a 
little sick." He paused. "I didn't make any more friends." 

"Look, lad, I know," I said, "but . . ." 

"No," he replied in the same even voice, "you don't know. 

246 : a name for evil 

But I know. There was so much of it. It was everywhere, all 
the time." 

"That was war," I said. ''This is a different thing." 

"No," he persisted. "It's no different. What's different is 
crowding yourself in a hole. You are there and you wait for 
it, and it doesn't come. You just wait and you think of every- 
thing you can think of. You'd be surprised how little there 
is to think of. It's like a long-drawn-out life where nothing 
ever happens. The things that bite and crawl and suck keep 
you alive. Then it's over." He stopped, but added, "There's 
one other thing. To love very hard and don't ever do any- 
thing but love. As long as that lasts you are alive. Get away 
from anything that will interfere. Run if you have to." 

"You mean I should run away from here?" 

He nodded. "There's nothing else to do." 

"I can do three things," I said. "I can tell Ellen what I 

"But you haven't." 

"I don't dare. Suppose she's deep in the business." 

"So much the better. Before she goes deeper." 

"It might drive her all the way." 

"Go away." 

"That's my second possibility." 

"Then go, and now." 

"It's not so simple. There is the money tied up here. It's 
not easy to cut such strings. Nor does any man like to give 

"Giving up, winning, it's all the same." 

"Where would we go now? Even if we could drop what we 
are doing. Isn't the pillar cut from the same tree as the post?" 

"Go away," he said dreamily, "and take your bride away." 

"Ellen," I said dryly, "is no longer a bride." 

a name for evil : 247 

"My love would be always a bride." 

"Lying in the slop of foreign holes has addled your wits, 
son. Listen. Do you think I don't know what a bride is? She 
is the one with the eyes in the back of her head, seeing both 
ways at once, the one miracle life is capable of, where in- 
nocence and knowledge meet before they fuse in the waste 
of the world. And you who fancy yourself the perennial 
bridegroom. Do you think I don't know what he is, at least 
in this country where there is only one season? He is the man 
with the strained neck, looking always back to Eden. He tries 
one way or another, and each time ends up in the blind alley 
of adultery. Or California." 

I had tried to shock a little sense into him, and for a while 
I thought I had, but he only said, "And the third thing?" 

"Stay and see it out." 

As he made no comment on this, I filled the silence with 
my voice. "And that's what I mean to do. See it out." 

But the silence remained. 



one-two of this blow. Moss could never feel, I now saw, the 
responsibility for The Grove that I had once hoped from 
him. He would never preserve and hand it on with care to 
his heir. To live for the moment, to burn life up in one 
great blaze, destroys the traditional thing. His attitude, 
really, approached much closer to Major Brent's than to 
mine. Each in his way would sacrifice The Grove to the 

248 : a name for evil 

private whim, the personal need of the individual. My dis- 
appointment was grave, but it was by no means, at this mo- 
ment, my first concern. Moss's attitude toward death, which 
I had learned too late, meant that he would be of no further 
aid to me. How much of a hindrance I had still to learn. I 
felt, with some misgivings, that he would not intentionally 
betray me, but I could no longer put any confidence in him. 
Nor could I dismiss him easily. He knew too much. There 
was no way of getting around it. I had added to my burden — 
I had two now to watch instead of one. 

But the first watch was in the hall below, where Ellen was 
busy taking off the old wallpaper with the help of one of 
Johnny's girls. I had bought her a small orchard spray and 
with this she shot a warm mist over the old paper, let it sink 
in, and then she and the girl took putty knives and worked 
the paper off. It went fairly fast and was less expensive than 
hiring a steamer and then finding somebody to run it. One of 
the most depressing things which was borne in on me, in the 
progress of my awakening to the real difficulties of regenera- 
tion, was my discovery that those following trades lacked 
professional integrity. It was not merely that any given crafts- 
man — the word of course has lost all meaning — was un- 
ethical. Skill was gone, pride in the work; he was not even 
interested much in his pay, for the war and the government 
had diverted the workmen from a belief in that basic fear 
of want which stiffens the social morality in good times and 
makes all men of family remember the diversity of evil. This 
condition was not entirely the fault of those in public places; 
they were merely the representatives of this democracy of 
absolute corruption, for the evil had long been working in 
the yeast. Everywhere one felt a spiritual emasculation, for a 
man's final belief in himself comes from his attitude toward 

a name for evil : 249 

and his performance of his job. The soldier must be given 
ice cream to fight, all the rest of us must be bribed to live, 
for after all in spite of the conspiracy of silence and ignorance 
we, the impious, do know fear, the fear of those who sin 
against the Holy Ghost, the pretense that matter is all and 
that he who looks on the act of creation is himself creator. 

As I came downstairs, I found Ellen in the great hall. She 
was alone, sitting on the floor, in the midst of the debris of 
strips of wallpaper and the tools she was using — putty knives, 
stepladders, pans of water and patching plaster. Doors back 
and front were open and a warm breeze had already dried 
the top layer of the dirty brown paper. She seemed small and 
fragile and not the occasion for the litter but some rare ob- 
ject, so still was she, which should have been moved before 
the work began but had been overlooked by careless eyes. 
Her own eyes looked toward the door but they had the bright 
gaze of preoccupation. She did not hear me as I came up. 

I said softly, "A penny for your thoughts." 

"Oh," she said. "It is you." 

"You seem overwhelmed by your work." 

"No, I was thinking about a long time ago, when I was 

"That's not so long, darling." 

"It's centuries ago. My grandmother gave me a hat, I re- 
member. It was my birthday. I thought it the most beautiful 
hat in the world. It had daisies underneath the brim and a 
soft blue ribbon which tied in a bow. How I walked and 
turned before the mirror! The world was very beautiful that 
day." And then she said sadly, "I never see daisies now that 
are half so pretty." 

After a second I said, "Where is Maybelle? I thought she 
was helping." 

250 : a name for evil 

"I had some things to wash. I'd rather do this than wash." 

"You should have called me." 

She rose with a little sigh. "It's rather a relief to get rid of 
you for a while." She said this pleasantly enough, but what is 
said in jest is often meant for earnest. "You've been sticking 
like a leech, you know. And I can't get any work out of you." 

"I thought you liked me around." 

"I do, but much better as a hand than watcher." She grew 
serious. "I don't know whatever possessed you to think you 
would like to do over this old place. You avoid the simplest 
job. It's lots of fun doing things together. Not much doing it 
alone." She smiled wryly. "I don't ask you any more. You 
groan so it takes all the pleasure away." 

"You know that's not so," I said. "I want things to im- 

"You did once." She was facing me gravely, almost in ac- 
cusation. "This is our home. We live here. We are putting 
our things here. Your things in a sense are you." And then 
she came out with it: "What is it that makes you loathe every- 
thing you do?" 

This struck me like a bolt out of the blue. I felt that 
swollen clarity all blows give, and the incapacity to act. 
Mechanically I picked up the patching plaster and a putty 
knife and turned to the bare wall. It was my way of retreat. 

"Now I've hurt its feelings," she said. 

"I'm completely crushed," I replied. 

This feeble effort at facetiousness failed, but it gave me 
time. And I needed time in which to recover from the sur- 
prise of this attack. It was so unlike Ellen. It was alien, 
hostile, the author of this exposure. But it was no stranger. I 
knew him well but not so well as he knew me, or I should 
have stopped this great forward stride of his. If I lacked proof 

a name for evil : 251 

before of comunication between them, I had it now. Ellen 
was too close to me to discover so revolutionary a change in 
feeling, a change which I myself, until the shock brought me 
the truth, was unaware of. It was true. I was beginning to 
loathe everything about The Grove, for the place had become 
the symbol of the waste of our lives, the subversion of my one 

As the putty knife flew down the cracks in the plaster, I 
could feel the look of defeat withdraw behind my eyes. The 
motion of my hands relieved me. My balance was restored, 
but I had to get out of the house. I had to move about. I 
turned and said, "Let's go into the garden and see what 
progress Johnny has made." 

"But there's still so much to do here." 

"We can't do it all in a day," I countered. "We are jug- 
glers, you know. We have many balls in the air. To drop one 
is to lose the game." Strange words, and irrelevant, I thought, 
as I heard myself easily start a conversation so unrelated to 
my thoughts. 

She took it up. 

"It is rather like a circus, isn't it?" 

"So it is. I will change the metaphor. I'm the tightrope 

"And I, the lady bareback rider?" 

"No, darling, you are still the juggler." 

"But are there lady jugglers?" 

"Well, yes, and no. The juggler might — I say might — slip 
into a lady's skin." 

"What fun for the lady!" 

"And for the juggler." 

"Oh," she said in mock withdrawal, "I shouldn't think it 
would be fun for him at all." 

252 : a name for evil 

"No fun for the juggler?" I asked with lifted brow. 

"No fun for the juggler. He has to keep the balls in the 

She laughed gaily and I joined in, rather wryly, and then I 
said, "One reflects the company one keeps." 

"You see then," she replied, "what an effect you are having 
on me these days." 

"I, Mrs. Brent?" 

She gave me a direct stare and, to be sure I did not miss her 
meaning, added, "Who else, Mr. Brent?" 



cleared of debris. A dead city covered by silt or jungle takes 
on the anonymity of nature. Dig it out and you apprehend 
more than you would looking at a city crowded with the 
commerce of men. What you actually encounter is the ruin 
of life. All that man was and tried to be lies exposed in the 
bareness of the broken structure. The tremendous effort to 
exist and to persist finds there its ironic commentary. One 
dares not look too long. 

As I came up to the garden, now cleaned of rubbish and 
undergrowth, an impression of personal and private ruin 
swept over me. The exposure was sudden and complete: the 
brick in the walks were uneven where roots had traveled; 
the borders of the flower beds showed a few scraggly box; 
here and there a rosebush grew out of shape. At the center 
the rotten floor of the springhouse looked crumbly and gray 

a name for evil : 253 

from the drying sun let in after so many years. All over, the 
garden was studded with the fresh-cut stems of bushes, like 
stobs driven in upside down. But the design, as a whole and 
in detail, was sharp and as importunate as a whispered mes- 
sage. And yet nothing had been restored. I could tell that 
Johnny had done, for him, a good job and one, as he probably 
thought, suitable for the occasion. He could not reach the 
bulging roots beneath the brick walks, and it was plain that 
what nature had marred would remain forever misshapen. It 
occurred to me that he had cleaned it as he would have 
cleaned a family burying ground for a reunion of the de- 
scendants, giving the place a general tidying up but leaving 
the sunken graves and broken headstones strictly alone. 

"Why do you stop at the gate?" Ellen asked, interrupting 
my brown study. "It was you who would see it this time of 

"Yes, I know," I said. "It was I." 

"Well, then, won't you ask me to come into the garden?" 

"Will you come with me into the garden, Miss Ellen, where 
it is always midsummer?" 

"How poetic, Mr. Brent!" 

"Not at all, Miss Ellen." 

"But indeed, Mr. Brent." 

"Midsummer," I mused. "Nature's deceiving pause. Come 
walk with me there." 

"Haven't you mixed your seasons? Summer is past." 

"In a flower garden there is only one season, Miss Ellen. 
The time of blooming." 

"But flowers fade — " and she raised her arms melodra- 
matically — "even here." 

"Ah, yes. But one does not notice. That is the art of the 
garden, to have it always in bloom." 

254 : a name for evil 

"A very pretty illusion." 

"So that the progress of the seasons goes unnoted." 

"I don't follow," she said, taking my arm. 

"Consider the garden well, my dear. It has many uses, but 
first and always one thinks of love." 


"Don't you mean romantically?" 

"Exactly. You are very quick today." 

"And so . . ." 

"Romantic love denies the seasonal return. It is a pretense, 
a love for love's sake, an aesthetic pretense, if you will. And 
for setting, the garden forever in bloom, forever withholding 
its seed." 

"What a lovely illusion and how utterly barren! You were 
not so learned when you courted me." And then abruptly 
changing her tone, "How wonderful it would be if the garden 
were now in bloom, if it could have always remained what it 
was, and not its poor distraught self!" 

"You see why I wanted to keep this for last." 

"Oh, but I couldn't wait," she said in a strange tight voice. 
And then more calmly, "Thank you for having Johnny begin 

"Well, there he is. Thank him yourself." 

We went around to the far side of the springhouse where 
Johnny was. Ellen said, "You've done a wonderful job, 

He acknowledged this praise. "Hit taken right smart 
sprouten, Miss Ellen. We ain't made the show here we aimed 
to. Look lak we couldn't grub clost to the ground thout taring 
somethen up." He looked about him with measuring eye. 
"You can't rightly say that this war a hot-weather job noways. 
I reckon me and the boys done moved forty families' trash." 

a name for evil : 255 

"It's a lovely spot," she said. "I shall spend a lot of time 

"Hit war oncet a place for a body to take his ease in," he 
said, wiping his forehead and putting his hat back on. "But 
hit'll might nigh take one hand's time to keep the trash down 

"Oh dear, do you think so?" 

He reflected: "Hit'll last out this year, we being in the dog 

"I think it's the loveliest plan for a garden." 

Johnny responded as if the compliment were paid him 

"Major Brent war a man for sich as this. He a man to 
step around in sweet-smellen places. No matter how hard he 
drove heself, when he come to the house first thing right off 
he washed. He washed his har in scented ile and chewed 

"What a man!" Ellen said. I glanced her way. It was plain 
she delighted in hearing his name. 

"Yes'm, in many ways. Excusen me, he was a great hand 
with the ladies. He used to promenade 'm here a sight." 

Ellen did not reply to this. I said, "So he was a ladies' 

"In his sappy days, you might say he was a sporten man." 
Johnny indicated the walkways with a gesture. "He laid hit 
out like a race track. And promenaded 'm round and round. 
When he taken the notion, he'd stop and pick a bokay of 
sweet bubbies." 

"I should think," Ellen said rather testily, "the ladies 
would have got dizzy, going around in circles." 

"I've heared it made some of um faintified," Johnny re- 
ported gravely. 

There was nothing forward in his manner or expression as 

256 : a name for evil 

he said this, but Ellen did not like it. She took a step to end 
the conversation. Johnny reached out his hand. "Take care, 
Miss Ellen." 

"What?" she said sharply. 

"Hit's bad luck to step over a grave." 

"Grave?" she asked and looked wonderingly at her feet. 

"Grave?" I repeated. 

"Yessir." Johnny pointed to the flat stone top of an out- 
door tomb. "He didn't lay out no burying ground at The 
Grove," he continued simply. "He knowed he wouldn't need 
nairn for heseff. He just laid um all away in the garden 

"All?" we asked in surprise. 

"He wives," Johnny replied with just the proper degree of 
pride and respect. "Yes'm, he laid 'm out lak spokes in a 
wheel, all around the springhouse. All six of um." 

"What a bluebeard!" Ellen said. 

Johnny looked at Ellen for a moment. "Maybe a tech of 
blue. He beard war black as sin." 

Ellen was down on her knees reading the inscription on the 

"Six, Johnny?" I asked. "I'd forgotten there were so many." 

"Yessir. I come acrost um under the bresh here." He gazed 
into the air. "I calls 'm his wives." 

"You what?" 

Silently Ellen passed from grave to grave, reading the in- 
scriptions. Johnny followed her with his eyes for some mo- 
ments, then said, "Miss Jane war the first un. Her chillurn 
all growed and scattered. He got Miss Sally in Montgomery 
County. She died. Miss Lizzie come from somewheres off. 
When she died, look lak he lost heart in visiting ladies in a 
proper kind of way. The rest of um jest kept house for him." 

a name for evil : 257 

He threw this off in a matter-of-fact way, seemed to meditate, 
and then said, "Look lak, whether from fenced ground or off 
the commons, hit didn't agree with um none too well here." 

By now Ellen had completed the circle. She was standing 
on the other side of the springhouse, rather straight, her face 
pale, her head up like a startled animal. But it was the eyes 
which alarmed me. For the first time I saw fright in them, but 
there was something besides fright. She was like one who, 
eating of a strange and rich dish, looks up suddenly with 
the knowledge that it is poisoned. "The poor dears," she 
whispered. "All but one died in childbed." And then without 
looking at either me or Johnny, she walked rapidly out of 
the garden. 

Johnny and I remained a long time quiet. "No, sir," I 
heard him say at last, "hit jest didn't noways agree with um 
at The Grove. Some folks 'lowed they was too frail." 

"What do you allow?" I asked. 

"Nothen," Johnny replied. 

Never did I hear so much put into one short word. 



faced a fresh crisis. I even felt that I had the obvious chance 
to draw her back from the abyss where she tottered. But I 
could make the wrong move and send her plunging down 
beyond all reach, forever beyond hope of redemption. Still 
there was hope — I held to this — hope in the inkling she had 
gained of the sinister nature of the past. She had been dazzled 

258 : a name for evil 

by a mirage cast up for her in the arid reaches of the mind 
where she had lost the way. But there in the garden her eyes 
had been opened. She more than suspected the horrors she 
was drifting toward. She more than believed in their reality. 
I had seen it in her face withdrawing from the circle of the 
flat-topped graves. I heard the words "died in childbed." 
Those women had died; it suited the experience of that time 
to say of child. But Ellen asked, Six dead women — why? 

The next move was mine, to seize upon this doubt, to show 
her the ghastly meaning of this warning from the grave. Was 
it an entirely unconscious slip that she had referred to Major 
Brent as a Bluebeard? I thought not. I must make the most 
of this before the colored mist of her bemusement again 
settled and she followed the way of its frightful promise. But 
how? I stayed awake into the small hours thinking of all pos- 
sible ways to approach her. So far there had been only allu- 
sions to her ghostly intercourse. Her replies had been 
masterly in evasion. Upon them I hung alternately between 
hope and despair. But throughout this entanglement of half- 
formed decisions and uncertainties I held fast to one clear 
fact: so long as she was willing to play such a game she was 
unsure of herself. She had not quite tired of the world and 
me. This was one way of looking at it. There was another, 
much darker and altogether disheartening. Suppose she was 
already his creature and taunted me out of the slavery of her 
surrender? Perhaps it was weakness to deny this possibility, 
but deny it I did. What I had learned in the garden gave me 
fresh courage. But I must work fast. The time had come to 
take the risk of judgment, to call a spade a spade — and a 
ghost a ghost. 

I slipped into my dressing gown, my dragon gown of 
eastern silk, and made my way to the little sitting room next 

a name for evil : 259 

to our sleeping quarters. Her door was shut. All was quiet 
beyond. Should I arouse her to disburden my mind? Would 
this frighten her and thwart my desire? I could not stand to 
see in my anxious state that mask she now wore so often. To 
succeed I must see her. As I hung there in indecision, it was 
solved for me on the instant. I knew as clearly as if I had 
heard the words spoken, that something awaited me outside. 

I fairly floated into the corridor in the wonder of this 
knowledge. Even now, after all that has happened, and when 
the end is known, the miraculous quality of my sensation, 
the feeling of security and power it gave me, returns to haunt 
me. In that moment I experienced the irreducible essence of 
self, the mystery understood by all at death, that ecstasy of 
the spirit which a few religious glimpse in their contempt for 
matter but which I discovered as the absolute purity of self- 
hood. The gross weight of my body melted as jelly does in 
water, bone, muscle, and flesh no longer governed by but be- 
come that which is indestructible. You may call it illusion, 
but I say that for that particular pause in time I was the sub- 
ject of a miracle. I stood for a moment at my threshold, but 
who can name the true name of the threshold I had reached? 
The night was dark and cloudy and a smell of distant rain 
freshened the air. The murky light of the moon streaked the 
edge of a cloud. Then like a young hound I struck the scent. 

I can think of no better term. Some presence, hovering near, 
had passed. The trail it left was still sweet. That is the 
hunter's phrase and I was become a hunter. How shall I de- 
scribe it? For one thing, it showed a definite direction but 
moved on a wavering line, such as air waves do. If anyone had 
seen me, he would have thought I was drunk and staggering 
to my room. There was of course no physical trail. There was 
nothing but the smell of moist air, and yet my nostrils flared, 

260 : a name for evil 

although I scarcely breathed, as they would have done at a 
scent blown past in a high gale. Curiously enough, what I 
remember best about it is the feeling of heaviness, almost of 
matter. I followed as one is drawn along the heavy footing of 
a dream. It swirled about my ankles in the slow heavy way of 
mist clinging to low places. Once I looked down, but saw 
nothing. I felt I could touch but could not touch it; could see 
but did not see it; could smell but did not smell it. I followed. 

I neither rushed nor delayed. I walked with the sure, abso- 
lute balance of a somnambulant, and I walked unafraid. The 
darkness did not confuse. Nothing confused, nothing ob- 
structed me. My earth-bound senses had all perished in the 
miraculous transformation they had undergone. I had now 
one sense, the sense of myself. 

And all the while the night held dark, but my vision ate 
into it like acid. Along the back corridor I followed until I 
came to the small enclosed passage connecting the south end 
of the apartment to the upstairs hall. It was close, narrow, and 
rather poorly lighted even by day. At night one hurried 
through it with a childish feeling of unknown terror. And al- 
ways at this hour the outside door was locked; yet I knew it 
would open to my hand. The door jumped at me; the scent, a 
thousandfold stronger, enveloped me. 

I had no thought now but of Ellen's peril. I rushed to her 
door, but once there I noticed that the effluvium lay more 
heavily toward the opening into the hall. Why should it 
sweep to the very threshold of her room and then veer off? 
There was one plausible answer. She was even now being 
sucked along in its tow. 

I hurried into the hall, but what I entered was a place 
deeper and broader than any hallway. Before me was the 
balcony. Its door was flung back and there I saw, with arms 

a name for evil : 261 

hanging limply, steps advancing in hypnotic tread toward the 
rotten balcony rail, not Ellen, but poor bemused Moss. 



impulsion of his advance, the slight twist of the head as if he 
were straining toward something in the distance. I saw him 
fumble at the rotten banister, then put his hand lightly on 
the railing. Still like one who sees nothing close by, he raised 
his leg in even motion. This broke my spell. I called his name 
sharply. He hesitated, dipped his head as if to miss an 
obstacle; then proceeded to carry on the interrupted ac- 
tion. ... I heard the wood give a long straining creak. It 
was not until this moment of peril that my voice got through 
to him. He shuddered, took a step back from the open space 
and slowly turned, as if still reluctant to give over whatever 
image it was that had drawn him so close to disaster. 

I was carried forward on the upsurge of my relief. Relief . . . 
the sweetness of danger passed. Afterward there comes a lift 
to the simplest thing. The hall seemed its familiar self, its 
walls safe and comforting. I even forgot the threat to the 
peace of the house. The gruff thunder rumbling in the dis- 
tance gave off a friendly sound. But I needed some physical 
reassurance. The residue of nerves had left in my body a dull 
swollen ache. Desperately I felt the need to hug Moss. I took 
a step toward him . . . and then the moon plunged into the 
clear. Under the slow spread of its light, the tops of trees 
grew sharply dark, the lawn appeared vaguely familiar, and 

262 : a name for evil 

there upon it an amorphous blotch of shadow, as though 
secretly slipping out of the picture, took on line and form, the 
head first, then the long body, and at last the insolent set of 
the legs I knew so well. There in all his evil stood Major 
Brent, his head thrown back into the light. The face, fixed 
on the balcony, still and glistening, showed in its hideous 
nakedness his purpose, a purpose the intent of which was al- 
ready changing into triumph, as if he were sure of his victim. 
My eyes slowly dimmed and then went out. When I looked 
again, he had vanished. The moon had gone under a cloud, 
and the world was everywhere dark. 

I felt myself step back against the wall for support. The five 
senses, somewhat flagging, had resumed their natural func- 
tions. "Well," I said wearily, "how did it happen? If I had 
been twenty seconds later, you would be lying on the bricks 
below." And then out of my exasperation, "How did he man- 
age it?" 

"How did who manage what?" I heard softly, almost mock- 

I was in no mood for this. "For God's sake, boy, this is no 
time for evasions. How did he beguile you? What did he say? 
What do? You must try to remember." 

"Beguile me?" Moss was all youth and confidence, with 
some bravado, as he returned me this question. 

"Yes, Major Brent beguiled you," I said flatly. 

"Major Brent?" he repeated as though the name came as an 
impossible surprise. "I've not seen your Major Brent." And 
then as if there were some need to emphasize his statement, 
"I have never seen your Major Brent." 

I truly at this stage, pressed as I was with the increased 
pace of the drama we were enacting, felt that I had more than 
I could bear. It was possible that Moss's memory had been 

a name for evil : 263 

wiped clean . . . unless — I must always face this uncertainty — 
unless the enemy's insidious promises had some way made 
the victim accessory to the crime. 

"Perhaps you were dreaming and walked in your sleep," I 
said to help him along. 

"No," he replied blandly, "I am here because I want to be 

His tone irritated me beyond bearing. I did not stop to 
reflect that this tone had been set by some prior command 
left in the consciousness for just this effect. I could only blurt 
out, and the harshness of my voice rebounded like an echo, 
"Well, but for me, you would be lost in it." 

"In your mind, Uncle, I am already lost," he replied. 

"I have not said it." 

I could think of no reply. I had again been taken by 

"No, but you think it." 

"Of course I don't," I answered rather lamely, if truthfully, 
for what I did think came close to the same thing. But how 
could he know this unless he had been taught to read my 
mind just as Ellen had been taught, when she accused me of 
hating everything I did at The Grove. 

There was nothing for me to do but to come right out 
with it. "No, Moss," I said. "But you have been keeping some- 
thing back. This is the hour for truth. Why do you hide 

"What makes you think I am hiding?" 

It was all so frankly outspoken, not only what he said but 
his manner of speech, that I felt as if I were deliberately 
creating a mysterious situation out of a natural circumstance. 
I didn't carry much conviction, saying, "Well, by the way you 
arrived here, for one thing." 

264 : a name for evil 

"Didn't you expect me?" 

"I did." 

"Well, then." 

How in the wrong I felt as I pushed it further, "I mean 
the way you appeared. You will admit it was unusual." 

"But didn't you want me?" 

"Of course." But I didn't let this clever flattery divert me. 
"You came here, a remote place. You didn't go to your 
father's house, where you would be known." 

"I can't go home. I can come only to you," he said. 

"But why?" 

"You know why," he said. 

I didn't know how to push this further. In his clever way he 
knew it, and he knew that I knew it. I changed my approach. 
"And the way you have kept hidden, coming out only at 
night. Sleeping by day." 

"But that was your idea, Uncle." 

This was a half-truth but it silenced me. My delicacy in 
the matter, from the sympathy between us which had led me 
to understand his predicament and not press him with it, now 
rendered me helpless. As I said no more, he drove me farther 
into my corner. "It was you, you know, who chose the day- 
time watch." 

This wound me up and tied me off. What proof is there to 
a silent agreement, if one party refuses to honor it? What face 
I would have lost if I had given away to temper, before so 
much youth and candor and the innocent-seeming pleasure 
he took in catching me in his net. I could imagine the look 
of hurt and surprise in the soft dark eyes, the injured query 
and afterward the awkward drop of the head, for he liked to 
please and never had he been one to bear correction. This was 
the lesson I had learned and his father had not. 

a name for evil : 265 

No, I had to accept the shift in our relations and act, when 
the need arose, within the new limits imposed. As we parted, 
I parted with the deeper knowledge of the enemy's skill and 
the fresh ground I had lost. 



feel sorry for ourselves. I had reached that hazardous state: I 
felt very sorry for myself. If I had been a man of deliberate 
evil, there would be some justice to the ordeal I was being 
put through. But what was I? Can any man answer this ques- 
tion? I tried to, in the chill of those before-dawn hours after 
I had left Moss. I left him with a good conscience. I was sure 
Major Brent would return no more that night, but indeed I 
was so low in mind that if he had, I would have said, Enter 
your domain and do your will. At least I think I would. 

Where I wandered I do not know. My steps moved in reflex 
action to the real journey which went on in my head. And 
that took me down past the will, past the imagination, to the 
obscure area which the soul inhabits. Here there are limpid 
patches where lights play, but all else is opaque and of an 
endless depth no resources can plumb. But I probed as well 
as I could. Like two boys shouting threats across the circle 
of dust their fears are treading, I went round myself, and 
only when shame turned fear into pain did I suffer knowl- 
edge. Knowledge, the memory of where we go wrong but 
never quite why. There are two questions that may be put — 
What and How. The scientist asks What, the artist How, 

266 : a name for evil 

but in any case both burn in the same fire. The residue of 
one is ashes for the winds, the leavings of the other a thing 
of hard irreducible form, telling all and nothing, and its 
polish is the shine of agony. My agony was in the making, but 
who can leap clear of the fire, that leap which hurries time 
and rushes the end? 

I had come to live at The Grove, for in my blood was the 
insistent need to abide. The wanderer wears smooth as a 
penny and tells fortunes, but never his own. The gypsy in the 
coonskin cap, making always his circle — this I fled and sought 
the place where the seasons make their orderly return, to 
the dwelling for the woman, to the earth for the seed, and I 
to my care. I came to a place with a western view. I was not 
the prodigal returning to the fatted calf, and yet there was 
one who saw me from afar, but he did not rush forth and fall 
on my neck. He waited and when I came I found a thing out 
of time haunting and mouldering bones. I found that the 
body has its seasons, too, and that they are brief and, diminu- 
tive of the great seasons, make one cycle. 

And so it is that the great fear is not death but oblivion. 
And oblivion settles on an impotent man. It was this, I 
decided, which had kept Major Brent near the scene of his 
crime, for impotence has a larger meaning than the body's 
lack. In vanity and by will he had cut off his line; or so he 
had intended, but there he fell into radical error. Call it 
metaphysical if you will, but the progeny The Grove might 
rightfully claim as its due had gone to the grave with Major 
Brent. But it would not lie. A thing must live before it dies. 
And this progeny, forbidden life, drew back the shade of 
Major Brent and fastened him to the air of the place. Its 
mortal weight forbade him the felicitous reaches of infinity. 
To be neither of the world nor altogether out of it — that was 

a name for evil : 267 

his punishment. I had got this much, wandering through the 
tortured night, and I knew I had got it right. But it was not 
with this I had to do. 

I will state it plainly. Every crime demands expiation, 
every expiation a victim. That he might go free, dispossess 
himself of the blur of mortality, Major Brent had chosen 
what I loved for victim. The nature of the sacrifice was not 
clear to me at this time, but my fears grew out of its vague- 
ness, for I knew it was not vague to him. I had seen enough 
this night to know that his ghostly purpose had advanced al- 
most to the moment of resolution. I must steady myself for 
the last onset he, even now, had withdrawn to loose. I 
probed no more. As I entered Ellen's room, our room, I had 
decided: we would flee The Grove before it was too late. 

The night lamp by her bed was lighted. 

"You are awake," I said. 

The shadows from the lamp showed me only half her face, 
and the thin gown, falling over her frail shoulders and ex- 
posing the round breast, seemed already shadowy light with- 
drawing into deeper shade. ''You are awake," I said again and 
crossed the room to turn up the lamp. 

"What time is it?" she asked. 

"Late or early. The roosters are crowing." 

"They often crow at midnight. I think the deep stillness of 
sleep startles them, and they cry out that it is sleep, that it 
may be broken." 

"It is after midnight," I said. 

"Is it?" she said dreamily, looking all the while at my face, 
but I felt that her sight focused on some reverie of phan- 
toms I was sure she now met with urgent, feverish need. Then 
suddenly her eyes became clearer and she said, "What are you 
doing up at this hour?" 

268 : a name for evil 

"I might ask, Why are you awake?" 

"I couldn't sleep. I've been thinking." 

"About what?" 

"About us and what we do here." 

"For instance?" 

"Well, for one thing, about you wandering at night, not 
coming to bed." 

"Did I wake you?" 

"Something did." 

I sat on the bed and took her hand. I asked very slowly, 
"Do you know what it was?" 

"Why, no," she said and yet this answer seemed to imply 
that I could tell her if I would. 

I leaned slightly forward, as her attention was about to 
waver. "Do you know where it was?" 

"Why, no. Why do you look so strange?" 

I pinned her down. "Are you sure?" 

"Well, no . . . yes." I felt her hand withdrawing from mine, 
but I held it fast. "I thought there was something out there. I 
couldn't be sure." 

"Where?" I was calm, but oh, how insistent! "In the hall, 

"Perhaps. You were in the hall, weren't you? Let go my 
hand. You are hurting me." She pulled away and said, "Have 
you seen anything?" 

Go carefully, carefully, I warned myself. You cannot say 
you have seen a ghost and let her laugh the truth off, even 
though the laugh cry out in harsh falsity. I said, "The night 
is full of things, if you can see in the dark." 

"Can you see in the dark, dear? I can't. I light a lamp." 
We were now back at our old evasions, which skimmed the 

a name for evil : 269 

surface of the things we feared to name but which by the very 
lightness of innuendo admitted its presence. 

"Are you afraid of what you will see in the dark?" I asked. 

"But I've just told you. I make a light. A light is a comfort 
to a lonely woman. Yet it makes her more lonely." 

"Are you so much alone?" I said directly, dropping the 

"I have been. You see, you either work or wander around 
the place like a man with a bad conscience. You should have 
a bad conscience neglecting me as you do." 

"But does it matter so much to you?" I asked leaning 

I had driven her into a corner. She looked away as if to 
escape and I pitied her with all my heart. If I could only 
have helped! But it was not for me to help. After a moment 
she collected herself. Her breath made a fast little gallop. 

"Yes, it has mattered," she said. "But it may not any more." 

Her voice and eyes were deliberately teasing; and then she 
came out with it so easily and with such self-confidence I 
almost felt in her the demand for my sympathy and approval. 
"There may be someone, you know, to take your place." 

You may expect the worst and think you are prepared, 
but you are never prepared. The prisoner at the dock is never 
prepared, even though he reads his doom in the judge's face. 
The few simple words seem too slight for the finality of their 
intelligence. You cannot move. You sit motionless, with the 
sense of the stricken years between you like a glass and in 
the hall below the clock strikes the hour. You sit as though 
you would sit out time until the last stroke of the gong dies 
away and you rise and passionately take her in your arms 
and there is a gasp of pain in her breath and you say, "I will 
take you away from this haunted house." 

270 : a name for evil 

She does not speak, though your desperate embrace bruises 
and you sense fear in her rapid breath, fear of what she does 
not understand in you, fear that she will be torn from the 
phantom who grows in her desire like a cancer. Then at last 
the strength goes from your grasp and you release her and 
she draws back against the headboard, with the fright now 
seen in her eyes and behind the wide iris resistance growing. 
You hear your dull words, dulled from the expense of pas- 
sion, "How was I to know?" 

After a while, when she sees your strength abate, she stirs 
slightly, but speaks clearly enough, "Where do you think you 
can take me?" 

"Anywhere away from this." 

"Do you think it will help to go away? There was a time 
for that, but that time is past." 

"Time passes," I said vehemently, "but you make time too. 
I brought you here, but how was I to know what I would 
find?" And then I blurted out, for my words catching fire 
from themselves leaped trembling and out of control, "I'm 
afraid I'll lose you." 

"That," she said quietly, "is a risk you must take." 

I had expected denials, derision, some guilty mask behind 
which she might retreat, I don't know what I expected, any- 
thing but the surprise I got, the one thing that would silence 
me, this challenge to my manhood. And it was not only her 
words, but the manner she assumed, a quiet resignation, such 
open courageous frankness, such gleaming sorrow, how shall 
I describe the strength and weakness she seemed, except to 
say that she presented the devoted look of the victim, that 
fusion of innocence and desire which makes ecstatic the eye 
of the sinner as he ravishes and cleans himself upon what 
his glance devours. 

a name for evil : 271 

But I was not that sinner. I was the one from whose arms 
she had been snatched by lot, and as I stood there, for a mo- 
ment helpless, all my old longing for her love, the keener 
for the sense of the loss I would suffer, took hold of me. "No 
love shall supplant our love," I whispered, advancing. 

"No, no," she said, drawing back. "Don't ruin everything." 
But I did not hear. My hand pressed on the hot circle the 
lamp chimney made. The light flickered and then went out. 
For an instant the tongue of flame leaped at my flesh. My 
mouth swam in hot jets of pain and the silence swelled into 
one great swoon. She for a little resisted my arms, but at last 
I plunged into darkness. 




marriage when I waited for her at the chancel and she came 
forward as a beautiful woman toward a looking glass. There 
is no act of darkness so desperate that daylight may not com- 
promise it. But how the dawn delayed! I could almost believe 
it conspired with the night, so dismally did it creep out of 
the east, behind a dew that was more fog than dew. 

What folly made me think that violence could draw love 
back but the folly of desperation? Whoever finds again what 
he has lost? What wanderer returning home finds other 
than exile in the familiar landmark? Yet the loser seeks, 
the wanderer returns, and I must do what I had to do. I 
could smell the greasy stain of the lamp chimney as I sat on 
the bed's edge, waiting for enough resolution to get up and 

272 : a name for evil 

salvage what I could from the night's despair. I saw my scat- 
tered clothes on the floor and felt afresh that vast distance 
the quietness made between us, after the dry sobs, and the 
dead voice, "How could you do this?" And then in bitter 
wonderment, "How could you?" How could she not under- 
stand? I learned easily enough how one may maim what one 
loves. But that was the night. The light of day now seeped 
into the room. I reached for my clothes. They pricked like 
cold needles. 

Outside the damp air brought me up to action. This day 
we would flee the place. First I would deal with Moss. He 
would get around me with no more equivocation. He must 
confront his secret and resolve it. I crossed to the old office 
where he stayed and entered without knocking. The smudge 
at the dirty window gave enough light to show me his bed 
had not been slept in. I drew closer to make sure. There was 
not a wrinkle on the counterpane. It had the cold, starched 
look of a bed made up for the casual guest. And then on the 
instant I discovered how far behind events were leaving me. 
The moldy, shut-up smell of disuse told me that Moss had 
never used his room. 

There was not a moment to lose. I hurried toward Johnny's 
house and met him with a lantern on his way to the barn. The 
fog was so heavy he didn't see me until I was almost upon 
him, but he gave no sign of surprise. He stopped, hunched 
up with the chill, and waited. "Take me right now," I said, 
"to the spot where Major Brent looked over the fields for the 
last time." 

He gave the lantern to one of the daughters. She moved 
off like a shadow and the fog enveloped her. One by one his 
boys passed, their bulks thinning until they, too, disappeared. 
I said, "We must hurry. We may even now be too late." 

a name for evil : 273 

Johnny kept my pace, without seeming to increase the 
slow steady swing of the countryman. "I've just come from 
my nephew's room. He did not sleep there last night." 

"Young folks runs at night," he said. 

"I saw him last night. I saw whom he was with." 

We went along and I said no more to let this sink in. There 
was no sound but the rub of my corduroys. "He was with our 
friend," I said significantly. I waited a few steps more, then: 
"I arrived in time to save him." 

"What he want wid him?" he blurted out. 

I half turned, but Johnny kept his glance before him, as 
if he were intent on not losing the way. "I thought you might 
tell me/' I said. By slowing my words I gave them the em- 
pasis of an accusation. "You tend his room. You must know 
he hasn't used it." 

Then Johnny did a surprising thing. He delayed his pace 
as if from indecision; then stopped and for an instant looked 
directly into my eyes. "Boss, you knows who him's after." 

He turned away and resumed walking. His glance did not 
rest long enough on mine for me to make an issue of it, but 
I felt such a chill of revelation on the profundities of my 
situation that, of necessity, I sought for some superficial eva- 
sion. I dared not ask who. For days I was to be haunted by 
the depths within depths of his dark pupils swimming in 
those eyeballs the color of eggshell. They saw. What did they 

The mist was lifting. It gave me my excuse. We came to a 
field where the fences had rotted down and upon the edges 
of gullies the washed field showed thin and red. A fury seized 
me at this evidence of Major Brent's will. I turned upon 
Johnny. "You haven't cleaned out these fence rows." 

"Naw sir. Look like a body never do ketch up." 

274 : a name for evil 

"They've grown at least forty feet into this field." 

"They's still plenty ground." 

What good now to tell him I had come to save and restore, 
now that I had thrown in the sponge and was leaving? But 
the evidence of my defeat was so flagrant I could not help 
saying, "This is what Major Brent wanted. To turn this place 
into a wilderness." 

"He done it now," he replied in what I thought was a com- 
pletely irrelevant tone. 

"I came here," I said bitterly, "to make it so you and every- 
body at The Grove could have a more abundant life." 

" 'Bundance?" I could almost hear his mind turning the 
word over. "You means meat aplenty in the smokehouse?" 

"In a way, yes." 

"I ain't never knowed the time." We went along for a 
while, I still mad and he ... he said presently, his voice keep- 
ing time to his stride, "But looks lak time I burns my plant 
beds and sows 'm I ain't turned round good befo'e they needs 
setten. I works hit, suckers it, worms it, tops hit, cuts hit and 
hangs it in the barn. I ain't got my breaf good befo'e got to 
haul barn wood and fire hit. When the order's right got to 
git it down. Strip hit. Bulk hit. Then time comes to sell and 
you feels you done yo'ese'f a favor. You stands round waiten 
and the buyers and the pinhookers comes in jesten, and they 
strolls along, picks up a hand and flings hit down, and the 
man callen Hi, yi, yi . . . Sold. And nar, befo'e you kin spit, 
you been hiyied out'n a year's work." He paused. "No, sir. 
A body just ain't got no time for 'bundance." 

No time for abundance. What has man time for? I should 
have asked, but what was the good now of struggling with his 
inertia? I did not even pause for bitterness. We walked on and 

a name for evil : 275 

under the sun the mist burned away and I saw we had reached 
a large woods. I said, "Which way?" 

Johnny nodded before him. "That hit." 

I did not understand. "That's what?" 

"Whar you wanted me to bring you." 

"That's no field," I cried in sudden panic. 

"No, sir. Not no more hit ain't." 

Even now I was slow to accept what I saw, so blinded was 
I by that image of golden fields abandoned to rot. There is 
the act, and there is the image of the act. But the slow turn 
of the seasons fills out the truth. I gazed at the buckbushes, 
the tangle of brush and briers and overhead the leaves of 
autumn shifting their masses of color, now showing, now 
hiding, the anonymous depths of the wilderness. "Let's 
hurry," I said. 

Johnny drew back his foot. "This here is fur as I goes." 

"What do you mean?" 

"I ain't never been in them woods." 

"But if I go . . ." 

"That ain't me." 

I said slowly, "Do you mean you are abandoning me, here 
and now?" 

He looked up and down; said, "Hit make a body squinty- 
eyed to look at what you sees." 

"Very well," I replied. "I'll go alone." 

To this he gave no reply, nor did I look at him again. I 
started in, fearing but sure of what I would find there, not 
knowing whether I should be too late. The briers struck and 
bound me in their sharp festoons. 

Johnny called out, "The cattle uses sometimes below." 

"Why didn't you tell me?" I called back in exasperation. 

I found the break the cattle had made and followed the 

276 : a name for evil 

faint and winding path. Along this I hurried, dodging the 
slapping limbs until I found myself well in among the trees. 
Here I left the path, for it followed a simple instinctive route 
and, being cattle-made, would skirt the center where I was 
going. I took direction as well as my haste would allow and 
pushed on. It was not a large wood, that is not large enough 
to get lost in, but it was dense and had reached the season 
which is life-in-death. The black gums, the first to turn, ap- 
peared through the green depths, great bloody flowers already 
drying, and on the fresher leaves a faint brush of yellow cast 
everywhere its blight. This confused my eyes, but I plunged 
along, choosing the easiest ground until at last I found I had 
lost the way. If I had stopped calmly to take my bearings, it 
would have been a matter of minutes before I should have 
come close to the center. But the urgent need, the waste of 
time, and my bewilderment drove me on. Beneath my trousers 
I could feel the smart of brier and thorn; my shoes grew slick; 
I slipped and fell. 

Weary and smarting, I paused half-blind with sweat and 
despair. I saw how deep a way in I had gone, for all about 
me the light grew even. There came an instant when I almost 
heard the woods catch its breath. It grew as still as quail in a 
brush pile. To the depths of this quiet my solitude abandoned 
me. I had suffered at The Grove, I would suffer yet again, but 
there was nothing to equal the terror of this solitude. Then 
out of it I heard a steady rhythm of breathing. I have no way 
of knowing when it began. I can only know that at some 
certain moment it must have begun. It was a sound such as 
one might hear in a dream, the surprise of its imminence 
when you first grow aware of it. But here in the woods I at 
once thought of some cornered beast. Yet a beast would have 
made no sound. It seemed to come from a clump of bushes 

a name for evil : 277 

close at hand. But it was not there. I heard it behind me. I 
turned, and it turned also. No matter where I looked, it was 
always somewhere else, yet always near. I began to run, now 
completely at hazard. What stopped me was the insolent, 
almost human complaint of crows startled on their perches. 
I looked up in time to see one swift black streak before it 
vanished, cawing, among the leaves. I looked down and saw 
my nephew Moss. 

He was in a part of the woods more open than the rest, 
and his back was to me. I had only a moment, but I needed 
only a moment to feel the hard tight lump of pain in the 
throat and that terrible drop into emptiness which accom- 
panied it. I had only to see the set of his back, his absorbing 
gaze, the force of which came to me as clearly as if I had seen 
it, to know that I had lost him. There was not much to go 
by, but the heart needs very little. He was erect through all 
the lean vigor of his person, but the tension in his shoulders 
told me volumes. They showed an extravagant longing for 
abandonment. All of this — what I felt and saw — fused in a 
flash of intuition, for I had no more than seen him before he 
began to move away. I cried out in my misery, "Stop! Wait!" 
but he was deaf to my appeal. I ran forward to seize him, to 
save him in spite of himself, but I was thrown back — the place 
was truly enchanted — by a barrier of thorn trees that struck 
deep into my flesh. When I had got around these, he was 
gone. I followed, running and stopping, in the direction I 
supposed he had taken. I called his name; but the deep hush, 
more hostile for my noisy progress through it, gave back no 
reply. He had literally vanished before my eyes. Or so I 
thought until, a few paces farther on, I parted the bushes 
and came out on the rim of a sinkhole. 

It was a large sinkhole, great enough to have pulled small 

278 : a name for evil 

trees down its rotten sides. For a moment I hesitated; then 
my eyes followed down the slope to the black gaping opening 
at the bottom. I shuddered and because action was the only 
thing that would save me, I made my way down the steep slick 
sides. For the last five yards there was neither purchase nor 
bush to hold to. There I stopped. There I faced the door to 
mystery. Fascinated and repelled, I looked into the black 
emptiness below me. One glance was enough: the hole was 
easily big enough for a man to fall through. In the silence 
which my long gaze made I heard the ominous sound of water 
running underground. 

How long I remained staring I do not know, long enough 
to feel the dangerous pull of that subterranean sound, prom- 
ising release, escape from the unbearable, the lull of utter rest 
and oblivion. What saved me, reminding me that I had an- 
other to protect, came from the blasting knowledge that there 
could be no rest, no lull of oblivion for me even there. In- 
telligence of this presented itself in the only way that could 
have returned me to action. I felt a break in the spell of my 
gaze. Raising my head, I looked directly across into the face 
of Major Brent. 

Masked by cedar bushes, his eyes hung before me like rotten 
berries, reflecting the depths from which I had just turned 
away. I am not sure even now whether his gaze had been 
fixed there for my undoing, tricking me within the radius of 
its transfiguring power. I say I am not sure, and I am not; 
but I rather think it had to do with the completed act. Unless 
his cunning had achieved an enlargement of pattern so far 
unknown to my experience with him, I had surprised him 
considering not me but the ruin of his youthful victim. 
Triumph of a sort he showed, even though it was no more 
than the growl of the beast over his kill. Indeed, he had the 
look of one who has eaten the very vitals of his victim. But 

a name for evil : 279 

the fullness of my surprise was that I now saw in him a 
much younger apparition, as one who had truly eaten of life. 
The lips pouted in a sensuous curve; there was a glow on his 
features; but the face, the color of that brown which none 
resists, showed also the mark of his torment. And it was this — 
equal pull between the need and the suffering it made — which 
contained the secret of his appeal. But the horror which fixed 
me there evolved from the knowledge that he could both 
show and disguise damnation. 

So I felt as I looked up and through the cedars confronted 
my enemy. Perhaps I should have called out, defied him. But 
would this have freed me from the festering curse which 
poisoned my life? It might have brought me temporary relief, 
but the need for it was stifled in what I can remember only 
as a heightening of the tension. My vision had sharpened. 
There was no satiety on those lips: they still hungered. I had 
scarcely taken this in when he turned his head in a restless 
start. Then he was gone, gone in the very act of turning, but 
not before I had caught the full force of his purpose, a purpose 
the intent of which, if he had spoken aloud, could have been 
no more plainly told. 


Somehow i found my way out of the woods and back 
to the house. I remember half running into the yard, then 
a deliberate slowing to a walk. I thought: it is unseemly in 
me to be running: I shall bring forth questions which I 
cannot, or had better not, at this time answer. 

I felt relief at touching base again, with what had happened 

280 : a name for evil 

in the woods behind me. Then it came to me why I had hur- 
ried: Ellen. What should I tell her? I had to decide, even as 
I wondered how she would receive me after the nisrht's vio- 
lence, so fresh to her, so remote now to me. 

The house for the first time in months was a gnreat com- 
fort: its lines so sure, so firm. As I walked toward it, I almost 
sighed with relief and gratitude for its foursquareness. There 
it was. Ellen would be safe within. Tears suddenly blurred 
my vision, and now in the late morning light all my fears 
seemed groundless. But this elation was momentary because 
the facts were hard. I had first to make my peace with Ellen; 
and I would, of course, now have to tell her about Moss, even 
to the dark end he made. My story would bring the whole 
thing into the open. This were better so. So great a shock 
might break the enchantment. And besides there was no way 
to keep my knowledge secret. In the end the Army was sure 
to trace Moss. There would be questions. What ugly suspi- 
cions would not any silence of mine give rise to? Who would 
believe the truth? The state does not recognize ghosts. It will 
demand some reasonable explanation. If none is forth- 
coming . . . 

Clammy sweat broke out on my forehead at the realization 
of the predicament my enemy had brought me to. I stepped 
quickly into the great hall and leaned my back against the 
shut door. For the first time I gave myself up to that low 
impulse, the instinctive fear only the trapped know. 

Self-absorption stops all clocks, but after a while it came 
to me that the house did not seem the same as I had left it. 
At first it was no more than a vague disquietude, no more 
than the embarrassment one feels on discovering the change 
in old familiarity. And then I noticed — my consciousness was 
all alert now — the peculiar quality of silence the hall made. 

a name for evil : 281 

I called Ellen's name and, not waiting for an answer, rushed 
upstairs. She was not there. I quickly thought of the kitchen. 

Maybelle was at the sink, her brown hands idling in the 
dishwater. She did not look up as I came in, and I knew that 
things were very wrong. I asked, "Where is Miss Ellen?" 

"She gone off." 


"She gone off in the car," she replied after a pause, which I 
knew was a rebuke for my tone of voice. 

"Did she say where she was going?" I tried to make my 
voice sound casual, but I knew it was useless. Maybelle knew 
that Miss Ellen never went off in the car by herself. 

"She didn't say." 

I had to get it out. "Was she alone?" 

Some way, without turning her head, she managed to shift 
her eyes quickly toward mine; then drop them to her hands 
resting quietly in the greasy water. "I never seen nobody," she 
replied, looking through the little window at her head. 

By now I was desperate. I blurted out, "Did she say when 
she would be back?" 

"She never say." 

Dreamily Maybelle picked up the dishrag and twisted it. 

"Thank you," I said and turned to get out of the kitchen 

At the door her voice stopped me. "She never give out no 
dinner. What you wants me to have?" 

I stopped, at what tremendous effort of will only I will 
know. I collected myself to speak calmly, to give some illusion 
of order to this crumbling world. "Oh, bread, meat, what- 
ever you have." 

"Ain' no meat." 

"Then anything you have in the house." Before I went out, 

282 : a name for evil 

I had control enough to say, ''Bring a cup of coffee to my 
study, please." 

I did not go at once to the study. I wandered aimlessly, if 
wander describes what I did. To wander presupposes some 
degree of will. Shall I say, because I breathed, because my 
heart still sent the blood back and forth through my body, 
my feet moved, but with no purpose or direction? I must have 
passed through every room in the house, seeing without see- 
ing, everywhere through surroundings once familiar, now 
merely nonexisting. I seem to remember saying, Ellen gone — 
saying it; pausing; saying it again, hoping to induce some sort 
of response. But it was no use. Nature's kind anesthesia had 
deadened my senses. 

I became aware of a crowing restlessness, and then I saw 
that I was in our bedroom. Here, if anywhere, I would feel 
her presence. This was her creation. There was not a thing 
in it that had not grown in the loveliness of her eye, or been 
touched by her hand. But I looked around at a strange place. 
The curtains hung stiff and cold. The chairs sat about on 
display. I looked hard at the bed, thinking memory would 
at least restore that to meaning. But I could see only the 
craftsman's design as he must have seen it in the moment of 
intuition. There was no history for me here. Quickly I turned 
toward my study. There the human presence would have left 
its mark. Only in such a place could I recover my identity. 

The cup of coffee was on the desk. It was cold, but I drank 
it down. With it came release and realization of the desperate 
pass I had reached. Moss first, and now Ellen. She had seized 
the moment, oh how well planned, step by cunning step, and 
had gone to him. And I was helpless in this desertion, not 
knowing where or what even to do. Bound hand and foot and 
thrown into the ash heap. 

a name for evil : 283 

Well, let her go to him. It's what she's wanted, to try the 
multiplicity of those dark practices his ghostly whisper set her 
longing for. How the old one must feel his triumph! For it 
was through me that she had gone to him, through me that 
he would at last and forever possess her. I had not been able 
to stand the strain. I had weakened and blundered, and he 
had known all along that I would! It was his way of showing 
his contempt for me. Oh, it was a nice, refined cruelty, this 
self-punishment he had devised, the black gloom of remorse 
of manhood's inadequacy! 

I was a long time in this state. There was no pain. It was 
all pure suffering, a long suffocation like drowning, except 
that I was denied the sweet release into unconsciousness which 
drowning allows. And at last, when I thought I could stand 
no more, there began the slow dark pressure against the heart. 
The despondency this made is not for words to relate. Then 
suddenly the moment of ecstasy. When that passed, I felt as 
light as down, forever freed of my burden. I had done my best. 
I could do no more. I had nothing more to do. I could set out 
tomorrow, even now, on the big road and go until I dropped, 
with no thought but of what the day would bring and not 
much of that. And at night sink into sleep, sleep without 
dreams, and wake up with the sun as fresh as a child on the 
first day. 

Naturally this sense of absolute freedom could not last. I 
knew there was more to come. Perhaps it was the shock of 
looking up and finding the day almost spent that brought me 
back to reality. Perhaps the door made a noise as it opened. 
The two things came so close together I cannot even now 
separate them in my mind, for before I could measure the 
consequences of the lost time, my eyes shifted and there, just 
inside the threshold, stood Ellen. 

284 : a name for evil 

She stood with perfect calm, the door half open, and looked 
at me. I saw at once that she was no longer innocent. There 
was a surety of new power about her, a mysterious experience 
I could never share. I got all of this on the instant, and it was 
plain that she remembered the night's violence even as little 
as I. At the least she did not draw it between us like a curtain. 
She regarded me in a kind of puzzlement and her eyes were 
large with sympathy. What arrested me was the nature of this 
sympathy. It was not personal, but such as one, at moments 
of stress, might feel for all humankind. The pause during 
which we regarded each other lengthened. Perhaps she was 
waiting for me to question her. I was trembling too much to 
speak. Then she said with studied restraint, "I have bad news 
for you." 

My heart lurched. I mumbled, "Yes?" 

"I've been to town." 

She waited, carefully examining my face to see if her state- 
ment held special meaning for me. 

I said, "Yes?" 

Carefully, as if she feared the words might not carry, she 
said, "Moss is dead." 

I leaped up. "How did you know?" 

My mouth was dry. The words at first did not come out. 
They sputtered, cracked and broke up. 

She came forward calmly and sat me in my chair. "You are 
overwrought," she said. 

I worked my mouth. A little moisture returned. I flung at 
her, "Of course, you know he is dead. You knew it even before 
I. It is now the most simple of the sorrows you will engage." 

Nothing could shatter her calm. "Of course I knew it before 
you. The notification came while I was at your brother's. I 
am late because I stayed to help." 

a name for evil : 285 

"My brother? How could he know?" 
"The Army notified him." 
"The Army," I leaped up, screaming. 
"Yes, Henry," she replied. "The Army. Moss has been dead 
three months." 



body out of the economy of its mechanism, withdraws from 
the demands of the mind. My own had reached such a pass. 
It refused to send along the thin threads of the nerves any 
further shock. As I stood there, my flesh shut up in a self- 
protective paralysis, it must have seemed to Ellen that my 
grief was at the least extravagant. 

She could have thought of it only as grief I now know. I 
tried to act as she thought I should act. It was in such a way 
I discovered the body's revolt. And the mind's endless energy. 
Released, it ran like an engine idling at high speed. But 
away from its proper vehicle. 

A few simple words and a situation desperate beyond rem- 
edy had suddenly bettered itself. Indeed, would not the en- 
tire grounds for alarm have to be reassessed? 

And I? What was I? How had I known Major Brent for 
what he was and been deluded as to Moss? Was it that the 
humors of matter still besmirched his spirit? While Major 
Brent had worn as thin as the air he inhabited? Or had I 
second sight? Did the veil at birth hide from me the intrusion 
of common things? Was I set apart to suffer the visions of 

286 : a name for evil 

phantoms sifting through this veil, warped of breath, woofed 
so fine the spider's glue, beside it, would twine as gross as 

I was not so mad as to think I was done with Major Brent. 
A presence of such formidable proportions would not fre- 
quent the scene of its mortal life without some dreadful pur- 
pose. I held to this and to the feeling, irrational, unprovable, 
that somehow Moss had interfered, perhaps even to stay its 
execution. I felt hope, the bright gleam of it flashing in the 
whirl of my mind. But things were none too clear. Perhaps 
it was given me to understand this purpose but to remain 
tongue-tied. To savor the saving words but feel them dry up 
overnight like a cut flower. To fail. 

To fail because we, the sensible inheritors, will not face 
the need for any such return. When we admit the possibility, 
and it is always with cowardly reservations, in our earth-bound 
blindness we see no farther than some sentimental explana- 
tion. This is our pitiful limitation. We cannot comprehend 
life out of time or without matter; yet we believe in it. We are 
attracted to and repelled by it. Witness the desperate need 
to come to grips with, to explain it, to take comfort from our 
fear of it, which is the fabric of all religious experience and 
the source of the great entelechies of philosophy and the 
ritual of churches. 

But always the vocabulary fails. We have words: spirit, soul, 
life after death. We have myths: fallen angels, gardens of 
Paradise, the resurrection of the body . . . Yet what are these 
but material definitions made by the senses recoiling from 
timely limits and from the corruption of the body into which, 
at last, they must disappear? How can we, fastened to and 
made dizzy by the turning of the earth, see but as the drunk- 
ard sees or speak other than with a thick tongue? 

a name for evil : 287 

Prolonging the period of shock, so that some way I might 
readjust myself to Ellen, I wondered . . . had I blundered 
upon the mystery of mysteries? And why was it I who must be 
drawn into the expanse of this passionate emptiness, frag- 
mentary memories of which all men guard in the back closets 
of their minds, not knowing the meaning but only that there 
is meaning, as simple tribesmen perform acts of ritual about 
the shards of their past, with no memory of why or what they 
propitiate? I can only speak, like my brothers, with the tongue 
of matter. I therefore speak falsely even as I report the violent 
secret of the gods. Or if not that secret, then the shadow of 
the tension on the horizon. 

Ellen came over to me. "You must take hold of yourself," 
she said gently, touching my arm. 

"Yes, yes, of course," I said. 

"Come on. A little food will do us good. Let's go down, 
have a drink, and get supper." 

With a new assurance she took me in charge and I moved 
in the tow of her energy like a child. We went down the back 
way to the kitchen. Briskly she put on her apron. I shook up 
the fire in the stove and soon had it going. She must have 
been tired from a too-full day, but she went about getting the 
meal as if we were playing at house. 

"You poor dear," she said, looking into the warmer. "You 
didn't eat your dinner. You must be starved." 

"I was worried about you," I answered, looking at the 
potatoes lying in their shriveled skins, the fried onions limp 
and draining grease. But it was the odor of the thick bread, 
from which one triangular piece had been cut away, which 
made me withdraw; and for a moment it seemed to cast about 
Ellen's efforts a cheerless miasma, that smell of frostbite left- 
over potatoes have and the too-heavy soakings of warm grease. 

288 : a name for evil 

She said, "Maybelle knows better than to make that kind 
of bread. I shall certainly speak to her in the morning." 

I said, "What made you go to town?" 

She seemed not to hear my question. I was aware in the 
click of her heels, the pause before the icebox that she had 
heard me. She said, "Fix me that drink, will you? And then 
separate these eggs." 

I quickly had the drinks made. We touched glasses and 
fingers. "Prosit," she said and smiled. Her eyes became grave 
and she leaned forward and kissed me. "Darling, I know what 
a terrible shock it is. Moss was so fond of you. And you much 
more than an uncle to him." She added softly, "But you will 
be comforted." 

"There are things I must ask you," I said. "Things I don't 

"I know, darling." And then, "You must go in to see your 
brother tomorrow. He is taking it hard, too hard. I think I 
felt sorrier for him than for Madge. After all, women can 
stand these things better." 

Briskly changing her tone, "Now if you'll do the eggs and 
wash the lettuce. Oh, it's in the car. Will you bring my things 

I stepped out of the dark hall into the lesser darkness of the 
night. The stars were out, the sky was clear. I watched the 
flickering patches of light, so cold and bright, and for all the 
eyes that had sought them, terrifyingly remote, forever re- 
moved from human involvements. I shivered. There was a 
chill to the air, the first warning of winter. I took a deep 
breath and went to the car and picked up the bags of gro- 
ceries. As I turned, I saw a dark shape waiting at the side of 
the drive. 

"Who's that?" I asked sharply and leaned against the car to 
brace myself. 

a name for evil : 289 

The figure moved forward, hesitantly but surely. "It's me, 

"You, Johnny?" I had raised my voice out of the need to 
control it. 

"You needs help?" 

"No, no," I said. "I can manage." 

He did not go away but remained where he was, and I 
where I was, with my back against the car. I let him wait, for 
I knew what he was here to find out. I let him wait, waiting 
myself, now that I had to phrase it, for an intuitive grasp at 
meaning. At last I said, and my own voice surprised me, re- 
mote, apart from me, as though it spoke out of the air and the 
air's distances had brought it from some far region of truth. 
"I went into the woods, and you would not follow. I went be- 
cause I knew that I would find there some clearer meaning, 
and I thought that I had a part and that that part was to 
dispel the encroaching return of evil. Its rapid advance I had 
witnessed, but I could not define it. I knew the time was fast 
running out. And this was all I knew. The danger I sensed; 
I did not assess it. I lost my way and later found that the 
lost way was the right way. I saw my nephew Moss; I saw the 
pit into which he had gone; I saw the one who had drawn 
him there. And then I came to the house." 

After a pause Johnny asked, "Mister Moss daid?" 

"Yes," I replied, and my irony reached into the night. "But 
he did not die at The Grove." 

A slight movement of the immobile figure told me the 
effect my words had had. 

"No. No, he died three months ago, miles away, across the 
waters." I felt the pure clarity of the words as they slipped 
across the night. 

"You say you seen him at the pit?" 

Momentarily Johnny had lost his composure. 

290 : a name for evil 

"Going toward it." 

I waited, for what I was not quite sure, for some discovery 
he had withheld, an apology for his equivocal actions, but he 
quickly recovered himself. He said, "A mile don't mean 
nothen to a dead man." 

"But he's been here. I saw him." Then I snapped, "Didn't 

I could hear my breath coming quick as I waited. He could 
not evade this question. Had I not brought him to the study 
where Moss was? Had I not given Moss into his care? My 
voice insisted, "Didn't you?" 

The night seemed to grow darker, or did my eyes film, 
straining to see across the dividing space between us, leaning 
into it, to trap some expression, some disclosing movement 
of his body. But he receded. His powerful figure withdrew as 
into a murky fog. But his voice was not lost. It spoke in the 
formal courtesy I had come to learn as the barrier I could not 
breach. "No, sir," he said. "I never seen him." 

"You never saw him?" 

In my anger for the thing slipping away I stepped forward. 
I saw him plainly now, not a yard away, face me with his 
habitual dignity. And the smooth, silky tones, "Yes, sir. You 
brought me to yore room. You tole me he war there. It warn't 
my place to dispute you. No sir. But I never seen him my- 

"But the food you took him?" 

"I throwed hit to the chickens." 

"But the bed you made?" 

"I never made hit but oncet." 

I was close to him now, close enough to see the sweat bead 
on his forehead, and his eyes roll. Then I said right into his 
face, "Well, what was he doing here? Why did I think it was 

a name for evil : 291 

my nephew? And he all the time dead somewhere in the 

Johnny stepped back a step. He said very quietly, "Maybe 
he come here to tell you sump'm. Maybe he done tole you, 
kin you cipher hit." 

My gaze must have wandered, for as I looked into the dark- 
ness to question him further, he was gone. 

And then I heard Ellen's voice. "Where are you, dear?" 

I saw that I had dropped the bundles. I picked them up and 
went slowly toward the back kitchen door. 



but she made the error of trying to cover it up. As I set the 
bundles down, she said, "You need a haircut. And a bath. 
You mustn't let yourself go because we live in the country. 
It makes you look, oh look so weird. I know now why the 
English colonials make such a ritual of the toilet." 

"They are bored," I said. 

"What made you so long? I was beginning to be worried." 

"I ran into Johnny," I said casually. At least I had meant to 
be casual. 

"At this time of night? What did he want? Anything 

"No. Just the usual thing." 

She knew I was lying. Her manner became brisk again. 
"Well, supper is nearly ready. As soon as I put the meat on 
and make the bread. You can do the salad and I'll be ready to 

292 : a name for evil 

pull it together." She was kneeling at the flour bin. "I've 
poured you another drink. It's on the table." 

"I hadn't finished the first one," I said. 

"Oh," she replied. "Well, let's make it a loving cup." 

"Let's," I said. 

I took a long drink from mine and felt the hot sting at the 
bottom of my stomach. And then quickly I set to work. My 
hands broke the leaves from the lettuce head and I tossed 
them into a pan of cold water. I washed and picked the cress; 
threw in several leaves of the darker spinach; put some eggs 
on to boil. I took another drink. I began to feel better, much 
better, restored now as the spirits entered my blood and fol- 
lowed its intricate pattern into the veins. "It's wonderful 
what whisky can do for you," I said. 

"You needed it, darling. You looked dreadfully undone." 

"And you looked tired." 

"Yes, I've had rather a day of it." 

"What made you run into town? You must have made up 
your mind in a hurry." 

"I did rather. Let's not go into it now." 

"It's almost as if you knew . . ." 

She turned to me. For the first time she seemed a little 

"It is eerie," she said. 

"You mean Moss?" 

"Oh, the whole thing." 

She broke off. Her voice resumed its light conversational 
tone. "I bought some tomatoes. They looked good for so late 
in the season." 

"Maybe I'd better marinate them," I said. "Where are 

"In the top of that sack on the table. The small sack." 

a name for evil : 293 

I reached down and brought them out, three large beauti- 
ful red tomatoes. I could tell they were solid meat through 
to the heart, with no hard green core, but perhaps a little 
ripe — so that they would leak around the seed. 
"These ought to be drained first, shouldn't they?" 
I held one up. It was almost ready to burst with ripeness. 
"It's easy to see why they were called love apples," I said. 
"The old people thought to eat them was to die, I've heard," 
she said. 

"Do you suppose they made the connection?" 
"Love sometimes kills," Ellen answered me gently. 
I sensed that she had paused and that she had spoken out 
of some inner fear and that she was unaware that she had 
spoken. Not since her return, since the stroke of her news, 
had I felt so near to the rending of the veil which hid us from 
the truth. But how could I get her to tell me precisely what 
she feared? 

I prompted: "There's an older truth about love and death." 
"Well, I don't want to hear it. Not tonight anyway." 
For a while after this the kitchen was silent, except for the 
light familiar sounds we made at our separate jobs. Into this 
silence gradually came, almost as if invoked, the feeling of 
communion as we went about the common meal together. I 
was ravenously hungry, I who had felt no appetite all day, 
and the smell of food, its promise of restoration, took on a 
tremendous significance. For a moment my exhausting vigil 
seemed as remote as some old fable lingering on in the mind 
from childhood. I went over to Ellen and put my arms around 
her and we kissed as we had not kissed for a long time. No 
words passed; there was no need for words, those props to 
faulty communication. 

I released her and she began to make up the bread. It 

294 : a name for evil 

seemed right that she should pass from my embrace to this, 
for her movements were a ritual as old as the world. A little 
frown shaded her eyes, her arms rose and fell in effortless 
rhythm, her hands seemed to punish and caress the flesh- 
colored dough. My eye followed the next step in observation: 
the dough was flesh-colored but it was not the color of life. 
My nerves were still inflamed. I stepped back a little from 
the biscuit block, for surely now I saw the meaning of Ellen's 
motion: she did the things with her hands one does to bring 
life back to the body of the drowned. Unaware that I had 
withdrawn, as though she still felt me there participating, 
she rolled the bread to the proper thickness and then took 
her biscuit cutter and with quick wrist motions cut the 
dough, lifting the small round pieces into the pan. 

"Open the oven door, will you?" she said. 

Her request had the sound of words, any words, which 
may be spoken but whose meaning only the initiate can 

The heat blew into our faces. As she leaned forward, her 
eyes glistened. Slowly she shoved the pan into the oven's 
mouth and I, as if the time had come to play my part, lifted 
the door until it clicked to with finality. 

We stood by the stove a moment. 

"I do hope they will rise," she said. 

"Well, let's drink to the resurrection," I replied. 

"Don't be sacrilegious, darling." She shuddered slightly. 
"It's bad luck." 

I looked for our glasses. They were empty. "We're down to 
the loving cup," I said. 

I held the tumbler toward her; her hands were dusty with 

She drank, and then I drank. 

a name for evil : 295 

''You'd better hurry with your salad, dear. It won't be long 

I rubbed the garlic until its strength hovered at the bowl's 
mouth, and then I picked up the lettuce, wonderfully fresh 
and crisp. I began to dry it. 

"I'll declare, the water has done a lot for this." 

"I know," she said. "It wasn't very good, but it was the best 
I could find. You don't get good lettuce out of stores. We 
must try to grow fall lettuce in the garden." 

"The sun would burn it up." 

"I wonder why," she sighed, "it will only grow well in the 
spring of the year?" 

"I've told you. It's all greenness and water. It can't stand 
the sun. It's a plant that goes to seed quickly. There are peo- 
ple like that." 

She caught my eyes, saw where the suggestion had led me, 
and said very softly, "Like ..." 

"I suppose. Like Moss." 

We hung on the vast abyss his name made, when I de- 
liberately broke the mood. I reached for the loving cup and 
handed it to her. "Let's drink to Moss," I said. 

"All right, darling. Let's." 

She raised the tumbler and held it before her for a moment 
with both hands. The light had struck the heavy glass and 
made a thin stream of fire in the amber liquid, so that it 
seemed to take on life from Ellen's hands. And then it came 
to me, looking at her with that clarity which can only be the 
focus of the true vision that I was in the presence of beauty 
which men of all time have been unable to resist, whose 
grace drives mad or leads to salvation — a grace impossible 
therefore miraculous, of incorruptible innocence and volup- 

296 : a name for evil 

tuous play inexhaustible, the immortal heart spending and 
restoring at the same stroke. 

"To our Moss!" she said. The shadow returned to her eyes. 
She sipped the drink and then passed the tumbler to me. 

I grasped it. 

"To Moss who will never die!" 

And then I drained the glass. We faced each other and did 
not move. 

"You are smiling?" she said. 

"It's nothing. The most curious thing. Something com- 
pletely irrelevant just popped into my head." 

"But what?" 

"I'm ashamed. I don't understand." 

"I want to know." 

"I was thinking of Jim. A colored boy on the home place." 


"What has it to do with Moss? Nothing. Absolutely noth- 

"Well," she said, "what about Jim?" 

"Once at communion, when the chalice passed, he turned 
it up as I did just now and drank it down. He said, 'I love 
my Jesus so much, I'm goen drink him all up.' " 

"Darling," Ellen said firmly, "what you need is food. And 
plenty of it. Get busy with that salad." 

And I did, and she got busy. The light tap of her heels, the 
low clatter of dishes, her quick movements from kitchen to 
dining room, the ordered array of table gear, the last minute's 
seasoning — all of this, bending over the salad bowl, I half 
saw, half heard. From dish to dish, from table to oven, back 
and forth, she was now lost in that last act of pulling the meal 
together. I waited, expectant; and then squeezed from mouth 
to stomach, I took the blind spasm and the whirl, the after- 

a name for evil : 297 

faintness, the swallow, and knew that only food could save me 
from passing out. Concentrating, I walked a quick step to 
the dining room with the salad. The silver, the china, the 
bottle of wine, were in place, pure and shining, with the air 
of expectancy and the promise of fulfillment which the board 
takes on before one sits down to eat. Very carefully I walked 
back to the kitchen. In the bread boat Ellen was laying out 
the white napkin. 

I waited. She opened the oven door. "The bread is done," 
she said. 

"Good. I can't wait much longer." 

"Here," she commanded. "Take these dishes in and be sure 
to put them on the pads." 

I then brought the meat and put it before me. I stood, 
waiting for her; and she entered, bringing the bread boat, 
with the napkin folded three ways over the biscuit. She set 
it to her right and then took her seat. 

"Now we can begin," she said and a sigh passed her lips. 

I made a quick blessing and began to carve. The plates 
passed back and forth. In reverent tones of praise I said, 
"What wonderful food!" 

'Thank you, love." 

We did not speak again until the pangs of hunger had 
been appeased, sighing and sitting back in our chairs. 

"I've got to catch my breath," I said. 

"And I. My, but I was starved." 

"I never saw you eat so," I said in a teasing way. 

"I never had such need before." 

At that moment, looking across the board now in such dis- 
array, above the crumbs, the bits of food, the stains on the 
white cloth, above the dishes our apetites had emptied, Ellen 
and I at the same instant caught each other's eye and smiled. 

298 : a name for evil 

It was a secret smile, perfect in its sympathy, almost perfect 
in its understanding. I knew at last that spiritual unity which 
is the end of marriage. And I knew that I might now speak 
and she would understand. 

But she spoke first, a little sadly but with no false senti- 
ment. She said, "One would think we had forgotten Moss. 
But we needed this. Particularly you, darling, to help you 
bear up in your sorrow and the greatness of your disappoint- 
ment. You thought of him as your heir. Thoughts of him 
have made us feel justified in our struggle with this old 

"Helen," I said abruptly, "his death is our salvation. I am 
going to take you away from The Grove. The place is 
haunted. We will be haunted if we stay." 

"Darling, you called me Helen." 

"My tongue must be a little thick." 

"You almost drank too much." 

"Yes," I said with awe which I hardly understood, "I al- 
most did. But I am sober now. We are going to clear out of 
here. And tomorrow." 

"Perhaps," she replied and the resonance of her voice made 
me tremble, "perhaps you will change your mind." 

"It's made up," I replied, but the words died away. 

"I have other news for you," she said, dropping her eyes to 
look up quickly and frankly. 

"Yes," I whispered, sitting straight in the chair, sensing 
that from her lips would come the confession which would 
free or forever bind us to whatever fatal entanglements I had 
involved us in. Wild, mad thoughts raced through my mind 
as I endured the pause she made; but wild, mad, driving me 
beyond hope and despair, I sensed my inability to foresee. 

"Yes," I said again, and my voice must have told her how 

a name for evil : 299 

unbearable was my suspense, for she said quickly, but in a 
voice so low that I thought I had mistook it: 

"I am going to have a baby." 

I suppose I merely sat without expression, without sign of 
any intelligence on my face. She hurried on, "I know we'd 
thought this couldn't be. But I've suspected it for some time. 
And the doctor assures me it is so." And then, as I still sat 
motionless, without response, she added, "The child will 
come in the spring." 



sterility should suddenly disappear without reason or pos- 
sible explanation, and furthermore at The Grove which I 
had hoped to regenerate, thinking less of myself than of a 
larger pattern, although naturally I made a part of that 
pattern. After the surprise, the moment of unbelievable ela- 
tion, the coincidence began to seem a little too pat. A miracle, 
of course, is a miracle. It is not to be explained. One explains 
the unexplainable by calling it a miracle. One does not really 
expect to witness it. And there was no other way to regard our 
prospect of an heir. If we had deliberately denied ourselves a 
child, later to reverse our decision . . . even then we might 
have expected a reluctant nature to deal with. But this — it 
was a bolt from the blue. 

It came to me, not at first of course, but gradually and 
much later, that the changed status represented possibilities 
which I at first in no way even glimpsed. I could not have 

300 : a name for evil 

been expected to see beyond the fact, and a fact above all of 
such exciting vistas. At the moment it answered everything. 
It dispelled all my suspicions as to Ellen's communication 
with the sinister specter which haunted our lives, for ob- 
viously a pregnant woman is strange. Obviously she has had 
communication with the mysterious workings of life which a 
man cannot comprehend, and which certainly I, given my 
absorption with another mystery, equally insoluble, was in no 
way prepared to suspect. 

But also it gave me a firm answer to what had come to 
seem an irresponsible, a romantic, act. Now I knew that my 
good daemon had deliberately led me to The Grove. Not to 
escape the accident of the world but to come into my own. I 
was now to be the head of a family, a true family, returned to 
my proper place, and that place physically and spiritually of a 
sound and explicable history. 

I remained in this condition of elation for what was left 
of the fall season. We did not have that year a slow dying 
away into winter. The last of September was crisper than 
usual; it was even cold. And by early October we had had a 
light frost. Johnny had told me that the shucks were thick on 
the corn. I knew what that meant — a long hard winter. As 
time approached when the tobacco had to be cut, I had 
mighty little time for thinking. It rained a good deal, and 
when it didn't rain the days were cloudy. That worry which 
comes from the prospect of losing the year's work, of not 
paying taxes or the interest on the mortgage, began to creep 
through the farm. Every time we would meet we would tell 
ourselves that there was plenty of time. We would look at the 
tobacco, a fair enough crop, and say to each other there is 
plenty of time. And then we would look at the overcast sky. 
You've got to have sun when it's cut to make the leaves fall, 
or you can't put it on the sticks. 

a name for evil : 301 

From the moment I took the lead I found the tension 
exhilarating. Formerly, emergencies and crises had filled me 
with the nameless fears that come from an inability to act. 
But this had passed. I found I had a real interest in what was 
going on. I found I could act. I had that sense of holding 
things in the palm of my hands; and it was due to my manage- 
ment that the tobacco was cut and hung in the barns three 
days before the killing frost. My neighbors were not, all of 
them, so successful. A few lost the great part of their crops, 
many too great a fraction. My reputation among these hard- 
headed people reached a height which certainly I and more 
certainly they had never expected. Even Johnny showed me 
greater deference. There was no marked change in his atti- 
tude, but he would ask my advice on little things, even on 
matters he understood better than I. Somehow I felt that the 
life of the place, for decades submerged deep within the 
ground, stirred again and slowly was groping through the 
hard-packed soil to air and light. 

As Johnny and I parted one evening at dusk — we had been 
discussing the farm's luck — he turned to me and said, "Folks 
says you talks to the devil." 

"Why, what on earth do they mean?" 

The shadows of the night were rushing fast about us, so 
that I could not well see his eyes, but for an instant I was 
aware that they no longer regarded me from their habitual 
reticence. They fixed upon me an intimate, almost con- 
spiratorial gleam. It quickly died. He said, "Hit puzzles them 
how you done it." 

"It ought not to," I said, a little annoyed without knowing 
why. "They've cut and hauled enough tobacco to know how 
it is done." 

"Yessir, that's the p'int," he replied softly. 

I could get no more out of him. Nor was it necessary, for 

302 : a name for evil 

the drift of his remark was clear. What was not clear was 
why he felt it necessary to inform me. 

I repeated the conversation to Ellen. She looked at me 
very strangely, which also caused me to wonder. She was al- 
ready beginning to show, as they say, and her face was chang- 
ing somewhat; so it may have been nothing more than her 
condition. And certainly her reply was very sensible. "I 
wouldn't pay any attention to that," she said. "You know how 
envious country-people are." 

I hadn't really paid any attention to it, not to take it 
seriously, that is, until Ellen advised me not to. I realized 
then that it had worried me a little, or rather that a grain of 
anxiety lay far back in my head and this incident had jolted 
it to the fore. Soon after we went in to supper and after 
supper sat down in our common living room and she and I 
began to talk about one thing and another, I remember hear- 
ing my brother's name mentioned and then sometime after 
Ellen saying, "You are not listening." 

"But I am. You were talking about Moss Senior and 

"I was saying," she answered with annoyance, "the stone 
they want for Moss's grave is too ornate. And it is rushing 
things so. It will be months before his body is brought back." 

"I must have dozed off." 

"Go to bed then." 

I stood up to go. "I'll check the fires in the barns first," I 

I heard her voice, waveringly, as from a distance, "Well, 
go ahead. Don't stand there in the middle of the floor." 

"I'm going." 

Once outside the night air braced me and I could think 
clearly again. I was absolutely sure I had got up to go to bed. 

a name for evil : 303 

I had had no intention of going to the barns. Johnny would 
be there, or if not there, he would have checked the fires and 
left one of his sons in charge if he thought there was any 
need for it. I had stood up, opened my mouth to yawn — I 
was sure of this — and the words came out. They were not 
my words. No . . . they were not my words, but they were 
meant for me . . . 

A light wind had come up and blew the wood smoke in the 
direction of the house. For some time the smell had sifted 
down the air like a clean, sharp spice. Now it came in heavier 
gusts, insistent, commanding. I began walking toward the 
first barn. 

Even before I could see him, I knew Johnny was there. I 
called out, in no loud way but my voice went far, "Things 
all right?" And a little after I saw his shape against the large 
barn doors. 

He did not answer until I came up. " 'Backer's still high. I 
picked up the fars a little." 

"There's a ring around the moon," I said. 

"Yessir, hit due to rain." 

We were silent awhile. The night was soft. The smell from 
the barn, so clean and sharp, was somehow comforting. I 
wondered why I had felt uneasy, now that all things seemed 
clear at last, and right. I felt the sudden need to be confi- 
dential. We were both of us looking up at the sky. I dropped 
my eyes to a group of trees at the edge of the woods. The 
shadows there bred a stillness closer than the spaces of the 
sky. Looking into them, I said, "The Grove will have an heir 
sometime this spring." 

I could see Johnny drop his gaze and fix it on the trees 
before us. Together we stared into the shadows and after an 

304 : a name for evil 

appropriate pause, he said, "You shore means to hold fast to 
the plow." 

I don't know what I had expected, some conventional com- 
pliment, some acknowledgment which would show me he 
understood my fresh strength, my changed status. Perhaps I 
even hoped he would hint that now I deserved a son. Cer- 
tainly I did not expect so ambiguous a remark and almost at 
once I felt a chill in the air, a desire to go, my confidence 
somehow betrayed. I could have kicked myself. What a fool 
to lay myself open in any such way! I said coolly, "I will 
take a look at the fires and go to bed." 

Johnny did not stir. I looked at him expectantly. He said, 
"Hit's tumble smoky in there." 

"I'll take a look anyway." 

He undid the chain on the small side door with no other 
word, and I quickly stepped inside. I went head down into 
the stifling, flickering air. Almost at once my eyes began to 
water and the hot acrid smoke made me choke for breath. 
The little lips of fire, some slightly blazing, some mere red 
glows, lay in orderly fashion along the floor of the barn. I 
had never seen a barn going at night, and for one crazy 
moment I had the sense that the fires came out of swollen 
slits in the ground. I stood for a moment, breathing carefully 
through my nose and squinting, looking into the gloom. The 
four walls gave an unbearable sense of pressure, the solid 
tons of leaf above, the close ranks of greenish-brown blades 
thrusting downward their curling points, the bright points of 
the gleams below, driving the thin columns of smoke upward 
into the parting leaves, the darkness shifting, whirling in the 
reddish haze. My head began to whirl. Johnny wandered 
noiselessly through the smoke, reaching up, feeling, gently 
touching a leaf here, a leaf there. Once he turned my way. His 

a name for evil : 305 

eyes were open and set in a steady gaze. I reached up and 
fingered the crisp twist in the moist leaf. 

And then I heard it, we both heard it at the same moment. 
We both turned at the same moment. There came a slight 
puff from the center of the barn, a few sparks, and a chunk 
breaking in two. My eyes were stinging, but they dried up 
at what they saw: the figure of a man stooping, bent over the 
fire. Gently his arms began to flap like a bird's, slowly, 
steadily, as if he were fanning the embers. I looked more 
sharply and he seemed to be pushing the sawdust against the 
burning chunks. I could almost swear the sawdust moved. 
As I stared, the motion of his hands changed to a pat and a 
scoop, and then to a slow squeeze, as if they were gathering up 
something that was about to escape. 

Suddenly he became very still and I knew that he was 
aware that he was being watched. Almost imperceptibly his 
head bent to an upward twist, moving through the smoke. 
So still was the rest of his body, I thought of a jointed mani- 
kin whose neck was being moved by invisible strings. But 
it was no manikin. It was my enemy, Major Brent, and 
again his gaze was fixed to mine. Again I had the feeling that 
I had taken him by surprise. His face, as red as the coals he 
was hovering over, distinctly carried an appeal, but it was so 
loathsome in its naked directness he must have seen how it 
repelled me. In a flash he was threatening me, and the cold 
fury of it left me shivering in the heat of the barn. 

And then my eyes watered. Furiously I wiped them, but 
when I saw again, Major Brent was nowhere. Where he had 
crouched, I saw only a thick column of smoke. It wavered as 
though something had disturbed it and then grew even, 
funneling steadily upward until it lost itself among the tips of 
the leaves. 

306 : a name for evil 

Outside I waited for Johnny. He was leaning against the 
small portal. His hands with the swift, easy movement of long 
accustomed intimacy drew the chain through and noiselessly 
dropped a twig into a link. He remained for a moment 
pressed against the door, his head slightly bent and waiting. 

I said hoarsely, ''Did you see what I saw?" 

It seemed a long while before he answered. 

"I seen a chunk burn in two." 

"And what else?" 

Slowly, as one recollects the image before speaking, he said, 
"Hit flared, the sparks busted loose, but they ain't no harm to 
them." And then in a sudden change of tone, almost to a low 
rhythmic chant, "Firing a barn of tobaccer ain't the same by 
night. I knows what's there. I knows time I steps inside the 
do'. I can lay down in bed and know what's there. I knows 
what's in one fare and I knows what's in an'er." His voice 
trailed off. ... "I don't have to see what I sees. I knows." 



my first reaction was a feeling of relief. The promise of an 
heir for The Grove had taken Major Brent by surprise. At 
the moment when he thought to draw near his chasm of 
victory, his entire campaign miscarried and he disappeared 
from view. Not that I felt for a moment he had gone for good, 
but as weeks passed into months, I confess I had hopes, even 
if doubt burned beneath like a pilot light. Now it was flaring, 
in the brilliancy of its flame I saw what had happened. Major 

a name for evil : 307 

Brent had not fled: he had merely gone underground. This 
meant a change of tactics on his part. Failing in direct assault, 
if it is possible to refer to any of his methods as direct, he 
would now try us by surprise. Toward this end he lay in 
wait, and in a secret place which showed a public face. It 
was cunning of him but not cunning enough. I had found 
him out. 

He had not expected me. Of this I was certain, for how 
else was I to interpret that appeal of his, so quickly changing 
into a threat? No, I was sure I had happened on a clue to 
his vulnerability. This gave me a feeling of self-confidence, in 
spite of the immense danger and everything now to lose, for 
who could believe other than that all his evil would turn 
upon the child? He must have known that I was come too 
late to The Grove. He must also have surmised that I would 
prepare it for our son. 

In the acceptance of the changed situation I had no im- 
mediate fears for Ellen. She was not free of danger certainly; 
the danger was tremendously increased, but it was the kind 
I could face because she would face it with me. Indeed, I had 
now become her support, rather than she the object of my 
care. So it came about I did not go at once to the house but 
wandered over the place, questioning, trying to understand. 

Gradually the truth showed itself through the confusion 
of half-truths, false conjectures, seemingly interminably 
mixed and obscure, like the shake of a puzzle when the dis- 
ordered pieces fall each into its proper place and the whole 
is visible. The truth seemed simple enough, at least its para- 
phrase did. False romantic that I was when I first came with 
my idea, how was I to know when I bought a run-down farm 
to restore that I had bought nothing, that the fiction to own, 
in spite of deed and possession, describes the most ephemeral 

308 : a name for evil 

of all artifices? How was I to know that I had put myself in 
way of the past and the future, bemused by the mad fancy 
that I could reach into history and regenerate, a function 
proper only to a god? In greater humility and wisdom my 
idea gave way to a fuller vision of the rich complexities of 
circumstance and the unknowable mystery of the nature of 
The Grove. In this fuller knowledge it came to me with the 
suddenness of revelation: was not my idea the obverse of 
Major Brent's act, with the difference that he had died un- 
repentant and the vanity of his act bound him in torment to 
the shadowy air of the place, haunting it until that time he 
could work his release? And it was just in this that our danger 
lay. Unpurged, unregenerate spirit that he was, he would 
know only to seek his release through a repetition of the 
original error. But there is a blindness to phantoms. Beyond 
history, they think they may perpetuate it. I slapped my leg 
with glee as I thought of this. At least this was the conclusion 
I had reached that night and, once reached, the logic of 
warning Ellen without delay sent me toward the house. 

I found her sitting up in bed, with the bedside lamp burn- 
ing but with a dim flame. As I came up I saw at once the 
strain on her face. 

"What is it?" I asked in alarm. 

"Where have you been?" she demanded in a tight, injured 
tone. "You've been away for hours. I was about to dress and 
look for you." 

"Is that all?" I asked with relief. 

"Is that all? Is that all?" She repeated. "Leaving me to 
worry, not to know, lying here thinking of all the things 
that could happen. And in my condition." 

"I'm sorry, darling, so sorry," I said softly, sitting beside 
her and taking her hand. 

a name for evil : 309 

She withdrew it petulantly. "I can explain," I said hastily. 

''Explain? Explain what?" 

She looked up and her eyes were dark, swimming in dark 

It was not yet time. 

I undressed and got into bed and before I could speak, she 
turned toward me, drawing her legs up, with her head close 
to mine and her hair outspread on the pillow. "Sometimes, 
dear, I get so afraid." 

I ran my fingers carefully along her arm, barely touching 
the flesh and after a while I heard her sigh. And then she 
said, "It is only when I am tired or something makes me 
nervous, but I can't help thinking of those poor women. I 
know it is silly and that it was long ago ..." 

"Poor women?" I asked, not following. 

"Yes. The women in the garden." 

"Oh," I said. "Oh . . . Major Brent's wives." 

"All of them died in childbed." What sorrow her voice 
carried as she said it, then, "I just can't get them out of my 

"You poor darling! They've nothing to do with you." 

I drew her into my arms again. She snuggled close into my 
body and we lay together in the comfort of this embrace. 
When I felt her relax and grow quieter, I decided the time 
had come. I knew I must not be startling. I must in no way 
frighten her. And to me my voice sounded casual enough. It 
seemed in no way the bearer of what must have been to her 
strange tidings, a voice out of a dream perhaps, with the 
sharp impersonality of a dream. . . . "I saw Major Brent 
tonight," I whispered. 

We had reached that hour of the night when the heart 
sleeps, but I felt in hers a skip in the gentle fluttering, then a 

310 : a name for evil 

great lunging stroke. She stirred, drew back her head, watch- 
ing me, her eyes poised on the edge of shadow made by the 
lamp. "What did you say?" she asked. 

"I saw Major Brent tonight." 

Very carefully she withdrew from my arms. Her hand had 
scarcely pushed away the unruly hair when her bewildered 
voice said, "What on earth do you mean?" 

"On the earth, yes." I was sitting opposite her. "But not 
from gravity." 

She was shaking me now. "Wake up. You are dreaming." 

Carefully I placed my hands on her shoulders and lifted 
her around so that the light might show my face. 

"Do I look as if I were dreaming?" 

Her hands fluttered before her, then drew back against 
her breast in instant spasm. In a deep voice, harsh, choked, 
not hers surely, she said, "Your eyes. Your eyes," and then in 
a loud scream, half-animal, half-human, she leaped to the 
floor, where she stood trembling. 

I went toward her as carefully as I could, almost creeping 
across the rug, for I knew the slightest jerky movement would 
send her off again. In fact I was so shaken by this unexpected 
reaction to my carefully planned attempt not to frighten 
that I myself was unnerved. 

The distance gradually narrowed between us until I was 
near enough to touch her. "You must calm yourself," I said. 
"You have behaved out of reason." And then more forcefully, 
"You must think of your child." 

"I must think of my child," she repeated as a child would 
repeat a lesson. And all the while her teeth were chattering. 
I waited for what seemed a long time and she said again, "I 

a name for evil : 311 

"Come now," I said and gently took her by the arm. 
She was very docile as I led her back to bed. 



tell her of our danger. I went into the history of what I had 
seen. I tried to make clear the nature of the menace, how 
logically it came out of the past. At first she asked a few ques- 
tions, but as I talked she gradually fell into silence, and once 
so still had she grown I thought she had fallen asleep. But 
she answered me quick enough when I questioned her. Fear- 
ing her fears, I showed her how much stronger our position 
had become since her pregnancy, but that in a way this was 
also our weakness. We must never be off guard. Nor must she 
ever be frightened into any rash act if Major Brent appeared 
to her. He was bound to await the right moment, when she 
would be on a stairway, or in some dangerous spot where 
sight of him could easily cause her to lose footing, with what 
disastrous consequences she could imagine. I wound up by 
saying, "It is your frailty or mine, some defect of ours, he 
will pounce upon to undo us." 

I had done the best I knew to impress upon her the serious- 
ness of the situation, but I must say I was disappointed at the 
way she took it. So much depended on close alliance be- 
tween us, and it was just this that was somehow lacking. Her 
disbelief — I could call it nothing else — left me for many days 
in a quandary. Disbelief was the last thing I had expected, for 
obviously our ends were the same. Our sympathy and under- 

312 : a name for evil 

standing had never been closer, and so much depended on 
giving the child a chance. Our sanity, our very lives might 
depend on it. One may imagine how at a loss I was when she 
accused me of being cruel, by telling ghost stories when she 
already had enough to worry her. These were more or less her 
words. It was useless to insist that my intention had been 
anything but that. To prove it I showed her how carefully I 
had gone about telling her. I had been matter-of-fact, in no 
way making it seem strange or unnatural. No, I had kept my 
head. I had been in a way a scientific reporter of the menace 
I had witnessed; I had even tried to define the nature of the 
evil. And for all my pain to be accused of indulging in a 
cruel jest! 

I think at least I had made her see that it was no jesting 
matter. Early in December my brother Moss Senior surprised 
me by coming out to see us. He had once before made a 
perfunctory visit, to see, as he put it, just how big a fool I had 
been to bury myself away from civilization. His conclusion 
was that I was a bigger fool than even he had imagined — 
which, I remarked, was indeed a large order. So, when I saw 
him turning up the driveway, I knew he had not returned 
out of a sense of pleasure or for my society. 

From his manner I sensed that Ellen had communicated 
with him in some way, and to save her embarrassment I took 
him walking over the place. I walked him hard with what 
grim delight one may imagine; showed him the crops in the 
barns, the stock in the lots, the plans for the coming year. I 
showed him the good land, the land that had to be rebuilt; 
I showed him the ravages of the past. At last, when he was on 
the verge of apoplexy I sat him down on a log to let him catch 
his breath. Then I said, "Now, Brother, what did you really 
come to see me about?" 

a name for evil : 313 

He coughed, hummed and hawed, but at last came out 
with it. "What is this about you seeing ghosts?" 

"Did Ellen write you?" 

He hesitated, in his clumsy way trying to protect her. As if 
she needed protection from me! The idea was so preposterous 
I laughed out right in his face. Such a laugh would have made 
him angry at any other time, but I had fairly exhausted him, 
and much of his old contempt for me, which was only a part 
of his contempt for mankind, had softened since his son's 
death. The flesh, I noticed, hung loose on his jowls. His eyes, 
usually so sharp and cold, had begun to water. No, definitely 
he was not the man he had been. But something of his old 
self came out, as he stood up. "Ghost stories is damn poor 
entertainment for a pregnant woman." 

I said coldly, "What did Ellen write you?" 

He reached in his pocket and handed me the letter: 

I have been thinking of you and Madge a great deal 
lately. Now that I am going to have a child your own 
sadness seems so much more real to me. I feel so close to 
you now. My thoughts of the child I am bearing, of the 
dangers he will encounter, of that first risk of air and 
light, seem all so tremendously grave. I try to get a better 
perspective by telling myself how narrow are my fears 
to your sorrow — the years of care and thought, the years 
of fear after fear for his safety. And then the sudden 
brutal news. 

I suppose it is a kind of hysteria — but I often feel that 
we are so far away here, that so much could happen — it 
is hard to get a doctor. And then I wonder if this under- 
taking hasn't been too much for your brother. He feels so 
deeply — he is so highly nervous. At first I had thought 

314 : a name for evil 

coming here would do him good, but he told me not 
long ago that he saw the ghost of old Major Brent. He 
has got it into his head that it is some kind of a threat to 
us, particularly to the baby — not a very cheerful subject 
of conversation to me right now. 

I was wondering if you could find us a place in town, 
where we could go at least until the baby is born. 

I feel sometimes that a sort of doom hangs over The 
Grove. Perhaps I'll be seeing ghosts too if we spend the 
long winter months shut up in this house. 

I tell myself that my foreboding is only a part of preg- 
nancy and should not be indulged. . . . Don't give this 
letter too much thought. My love to Madge. 


I stood there with the letter in my hand. My poor, poor 
Ellen! To what desperate plight had I brought her that she 
would turn to Moss Senior? To what desperate despair had I 
brought myself in so miserably failing to reach through to 
her? Never in my trade, where I succeeded modestly in mak- 
ing the illusions of life seem more real than life itself, never 
had I sweated as I had to present for her the true image of 
reality. Only to be caught, trapped behind the skill of my 
trade, so that she saw what only the world would see, a ghost 
story. I could not lay it to her condition: the failure lay else- 
where: in my style. 

Major Brent — a ghost story! How that abominably mon- 
strous spirit, hiding in air, breeding pestilence, must be 
chuckling at this turn of affairs! What desperate irony for 
me, perfecting the cry of wolf, wolf, now to be undone by 

"You ought to get down on your knees to that little woman 

a name for evil : 315 

for what you have done to her," I heard; and the arrogance 
of the tone crossed my nerves like a file. For the next few 
moments I was trembling beyond control. Blind murderous 
flashes disordered my senses. But I took myself in hand. At 
last, with tremendous effort I opened my eyes. 

"Let's go back to the house," he said, turning abruptly. But 
I saw. He did not turn quickly enough to hide his fear — of 
me the brother he had always held in contempt. 

We did not speak again until we reached the entrance way, 
when I said, "Obviously it will not be good for Ellen here 
now. Will you find us a place in town?" 

"That's more sense than you've spoken in your whole life," 
he replied in a gruff surly way. And then his true nature 
came to the fore even in this situation. "Places are hard to 
get, but I think maybe I can put my hands on something. You 
leave it up to me." 

"I always do," I said. 

My brother had never been one to catch even the bluntest 
shadings of irony. 



settled as the tea leaves grew cold in the bottom of the cups. 
We all made the best of an embarrassing situation. Even Moss 
Senior became civilized in a neolithic kind of way. And be- 
fore he left for town, we actually set a date of departure, my 
brother offering us quarters with him in case he had not 
found us a place in the meantime. I protested this and, as it 

316 : a name for evil 

was growing late, invited him to spend the night. Ellen 
pressed him, but he refused. Soon thereafter, pleading bad 
roads and the approaching dark, he took his departure. 

I could feel Ellen dreaded the moment when we would be 
alone and we both must face her going behind my back. I 
did not tell her that Moss Senior had abused her confidence 
and showed me the letter, for I was determined there was to 
be no further rift in our understanding. Whatever the failure 
it was mine, since it had been up to me to communicate. I 
told her quite frankly that I understood, that she must for- 
give me, that what I knew I knew, that I had acted for the 
best, and that for a long time now fleeing The Grove had not 
crossed my mind. I at last was beginning to feel at home here, 
at last the responsible head and equal to my responsibility. 
What I had not realized was her own fresh alarm, but I told 
her that I understood her difficulties of belief and thoroughly 
agreed that what she wanted was best, that above all we must 
think of her and the special meaning her pregnancy held for 
us both. She was very relieved and, I think, surprised. She 
kissed me and said, "Oh, I am so glad you understand." 

"I do," I said. "But I must tell you I am not a pathological 

She interrupted me quickly. "Of course not, Henry." 

I went on. "There is more around us than the natural 

"Of course," she said. 

"I am more than your natural husband." 

The sweet sincerity of her reply moves me now, as it did 
then, with all the fresh pity I felt for her and for myself as 
she put her hands lightly on my shoulders and said, "You are 
the father of my child." 

I know I was close to tears, for I had to take her and hold 

a name for evil : 317 

her tight, as much to gain control of myself as to comfort her. 
But I could not indulge in the weakness of feeling: I must 
be honest with her and with myself. So I said, "But, Ellen 
dear, you must believe me. I am not superstitious. I am not 
what you may have thought. I was never stronger. There is an 
evil influence here. That influence I have met and met again. 
It is a threat to us. It will not go until I make it go." 

She thought a long while before she spoke again. Her 
words were quietly given, I could see she was struggling to 
understand. "How can you be sure?" she asked. 

"How can you be sure of those tea-things there?" 

"Why, they are there," she said. 

"Exactly. And Major Brent is there" — I waved my hand 
toward the outside. 

She lifted an empty cup. "This I can see, touch. Can you 
touch Major Brent?" 

I put my hand on her stomach. She withdrew slightly; then 
became still, almost poised for flight. We both felt it, I the 
swelling movement roll within her. She looked at me. "He 
just kicked," she said. 

"I felt him," I said. 

Almost desperately she replied, "Don't you see? He is real. 
He is important." 

"He is." I paused to give my words effect. "But can you 
see him?" 

"Of course not. But he is no less real for that." 

"Exactly. We do not need all our senses. One is enough 
sometimes. I have not touched, but I have seen Major Brent." 

"But how can you know? You don't know what he looks 

"But Johnny does." 

"Johnny!" She threw his name at me in contempt. 

318 : a name for evil 

"The descriptions match," I went on. 

She turned away and began piling the tea-things on the 
tray. There was nothing but the soft clatter of dishes and 
tinkle of silver. Suddenly she looked up. "All right. But then 
I must go to town. It is not right to make this child suffer any 
risk, whatever it is." 

"I've agreed." 

This seemed to calm her. And I let it go at that and con- 
sidered that it came off well. What use to tell her that nothing 
could be gained by moving to town? Was not the air every- 
where familiar to Major Brent? For us to leave The Grove 
would only be to make us more vulnerable. To remove our- 
selves would in no way throw Major Brent off the scent. It 
would only place us in strange surroundings. 

There was one thing sure in all of this: my brother. He 
acted true to form. With his usual lack of consideration for 
others, he transferred one of his key-men to another town so 
that we could have his house. Of course even Moss Senior 
could not throw the man into the streets without warning, 
the upshot being we could not get the house until the first of 
the year. In the meanwhile we were told in lordly fashion we 
could move in with our kinsman. But this I refused to do, and 
Ellen seemed content to stay on at The Grove until we could 
get the house. I made it clear that, if she wished, we would go 
to the local hotel in the interim. My thorough willingness to 
do anything she proposed, I think, made Ellen feel she was 
being somewhat of an alarmist and she hurriedly agreed the 
thing to do was to stay on at The Grove until the first of the 

Even the weather seemed to conspire to keep us there. The 
days were mild and moist, with brisk chilly nights. It was 
perfect tobacco weather, and the crops were all got down and 

a name for evil : 319 

bulked and by Christmas a good part of it was stripped. We 
spent a quiet Christmas, thinking how different the next one 
would be. The rest of December went quickly, Ellen busy 
with the packing, and I in straightening out my accounts. We 
had set the following Monday to leave. On Friday the worst 
blizzard the country had known for twenty years blew out of 
the northwest. It began with a heavy downpouring rain, a 
regular gully-washer which lasted ten hours, when the wind 
changed and turned a slow drizzle into sleet. The tempera- 
ture dropped twenty degrees in five hours. By the next morn- 
ing the snow was deep on the ground and still falling. We 
stood together at our bedroom window and looked out on the 
wintry world. Hesitantly I said, "This will delay us. The 
roads are solid ice." 

Ellen was so long making any kind of response I naturally 
turned her way. She was staring . . . well, she was staring into 
the frozen outdoors with such dismay, her shoulders drawn 
in and so pitifully thin and her eyes, all their luster gone, 
protruding in the set way of a doll's made for a melodramatic 
role. "This won't last long," I said heartily. "It never does in 
this country." 

"I was afraid of this," she said. She repeated the words 
several times with desperate earnestness, as if she saw the 
proof of some truth she alone had been sure of. I touched her 
arm. "Come now. It's not all that bad." 

"I won't be able to leave," she said. 

"I promise you. Now make us some tea." 

As it happened, I was a poor weather prophet. 

Each day the thermometer dropped a degree or two. When 
the sun came out, and this was not every day, it would rise 
for a little and then sluggishly drop to its previous reading, 
or below it. The cattle stood hunched up in the barn lot, or 

320 : a name for evil 

picking at the frozen wisps of hay half sunk in the frozen 
mass about the barn door. When I would go out — there was 
much to see to — the cold struck me as exhilarating, but soon 
my face felt tight and dead, my nose sharp enough to break 
and always the bite at the tip. The warmth of my body drew 
in as a fire dies away into its coals. 

The most amazing thing was Ellen's acceptance of the 
situation. After that first morning she showed me the quality 
of her courage. Her flurry of despondency had worried me. I 
expected her to grow difficult. But not at all. She had no 
thought of herself or of the child she was bearing. It was all 
for me. She could not do enough for my comfort. She made 
me tea whenever I came in from the outdoors. She made 
warm soups and especial dishes I loved. She would rush to get 
my slippers if my feet were wet and cold. She made me sit 
by the fire. She would look at me, when I went out, or when 
I came in, to see if I brought news of any bad luck. How 
intent was her regard before rushing off to do some errand 
that would make things more pleasant! She reminded me of 
those frontier women who molded bullets as they nursed 
their children. After several days of this I said, "See here, 
darling, you treat me as if I were an invalid. I don't deserve it. 
You are the one things must be done for." 

"I'm all right," she said quickly. 

"How do you feel?" 

"Fine. Fine." And then she would be off as if she had just 
remembered something that had to be done. 

In the evenings, sitting by the fire, she would pick up her 
sewing and sharpen her eyes on the needle, but I could see 
her watching to see if I had any wishes that might make the 
hours pass more pleasantly. There was an element of strain 
to all this, rather like that between bride and bridegroom 

a name for evil : 321 

when they find themselves, at long last, alone with the 
separateness of their personalities and the need desperately to 
wipe out the strangeness. 

I look back on this as a time, a crucial time, in our lives. I 
was like the sentinel on a dangerous post who turns from his 
intense watch to relieve his eyes and rest his spirit at the 
bright blazing campfire. But what could I do? Ellen was mak- 
ing every effort to show me that the postponement of our 
departure did not matter. Could I have received this atten- 
tion coldly and kept to my watch? Such would have been 
either brutal or heroic, and I was fitted to play neither role. 
Perhaps I needed this attention more than I thought: perhaps 
I was done in, exhausted by the continuous vigil. And cer- 
tainly we had to fill the days and the longer nights, and we had 
only ourselves to fall back upon. Never had she loved me with 
so much frenzy, nor had she ever been so lovable. I felt that 
up to now we had only touched the borders of that dark and 
passionate grove. 

But as the winter, so to speak, dug in I began to feel that 
something false had crept into our relationship. It was too 
intense; it could only properly belong to those who die 
young. It was not the thing to wear out a lifetime. And 
curiously enough with this awareness came an awareness of 
change in the aspect of the outside. For the first week the 
white world seemed beautiful — pure, absolute, bringing re- 
spite from the confusion and waste of living. Only in one 
place was there sign of life. Each day in the barn lot, where 
the stock was penned, the brown stains left by the cattle 
spread a little farther, grew a little darker. At first as I passed, 
I would look away. The lot was the one feature, no more than 
a speck in the vast whiteness, which marred the purity of 
what I saw. But it was not long before I found myself eagerly 

322 : a name for evil 

glancing toward it, as to some beacon, on my trips to and 
from the house. 

When we were well on into the second week, the aspect of 
things had subtly but violently changed. The black poles of 
the trees stood up out of the white ground, as slick and 
brittle as on the first morning of the blizzard; the barns and 
the house stood apart, surrounded, isolated; each object, even 
the smoke from Johnny's chimney, a thin blue haze rising 
straight up, seemed caught in the air. But it was no longer 
the whiteness. It was the stillness now which made the dis- 
unity of this solitude. 

In the room where I kept a great fire going, and it was a 
cheerful fire, the flames bending over the back stick, changing 
color as the heat became great or small, even here, just 
beyond the circle of the hearth the cold waited in the room, 
and the quiet there was the same quiet that had settled every- 
where over our world. One would pass through it to the fire; 
the heat might even drive it from the room; but one had only 
to open the door and there it was, in the next room, filling 
the air, waiting. . . . Just as somewhere about, in some bleak 
corner, or in the wide open ways, there was one particular 
spot of air colder, more quiet, but also waiting. . . . 

And then toward the last of the third week the white fog 
drifted in. 




thought was of Ellen. I must tell her. After all, disguise it as 
she had, she desperately wanted to go away to have the child. 

a name for evil : 323 

I made her dress and then wrap up in her warmest things, 
without telling her why. It seemed a foolish game to play, but 
I did not want her to discover the fog for herself. I wanted to 
show it to her. "But why so mysterious?" she asked. "Never 
mind," I said. "You will see." 

Once outdoors I said, "Look. Isn't it beautiful?" And I 
waved my hand as if I had ordered it as a special gift for her. 

She caught her breath. "It is beautiful. But why did you 
want to bring me out in it?" 

We were walking toward the garden. 

"I wanted to be the first to show you. The weather is 
changing. Soon I can take you away." 

"Oh really, darling." Her voice choked ever so little. 

We walked on. I opened the garden gate and we paused 
just inside. 

"How lovely the garden is!" she said. "And how unreal!" 

I saw what she meant. All the imperfections left by time 
had been covered. We seemed to be adrift in a white cloud, 
in some unknown ideal place, where we were the only in- 
habitants. The snow and ice had perfected the bordering 
hedges. The flowering bushes which, in summer, showed a 
few scraggly buds, now presented to our gaze the absolute 
proportions, the subdued glitter, of one blooming mass. Our 
feet crunched the walkways. The outlines of the paths were 
faintly visible; and along them we followed the circle within 
the circle, confining the fanlike beds. We wandered here and 
there. Once behind the white air the garden wall wavered like 
a shadow. Except for the soft crunching steps there was no 
sound. We moved in utter silence. The air was become 
silence at last made visible. Our solitude was complete. 

"The glare no longer pinches my eyes," Ellen said. 

"There's no glare here," I replied. "Wouldn't it be won- 

324 : a name for evil 

derful if, with a wave of the hand, we could make the sum- 
mer garden as perfect as this? And once perfected, drench it 
in some such arresting atmosphere?" 

"We can do it. Or almost," she said. "But not with a wave 
of the hand." 

"No, not with a wave of the hand." 

And then we found ourselves near the springhouse. It 
rose up into the fog like a monument, all its rotting structure 

"Let's not go too near," she said softly. "Let them rest in 

"Always you think of those women," I said. 

"I feel very close to them now," she answered. And then 
after a little, in some panic, "Which way is the gate?" 

I put her arm in mine. "Don't fret. I know the way out." 

She drew away. "But where is it? One could wander here 
for hours. I've heard of such things." She turned around and 
pointed, one way and then another, and I saw that her alarm 
was real. 

"Don't get excited. I'll take you out." 

I reached for her hand. 

"No, no," she cried. "I'll wait here. I know where I am 
here. You find the gate and call me. I'll come." 

I was torn between staying and going. To leave her in 
such a state seemed a kind of abandonment. I must calm 
her. But she would not hear of me staying. "Go! Go!" she 

It was apparent I must end this condition of affairs as 
quickly as possible. To remain another instant might set 
forever the mark of terror in her eyes. In my haste I moved 
blindly into the fog. It was then, swallowed up by it, I 
found that in my solicitude for her I had lost direction. I 

a name for evil : 325 

stopped and looked every way into the white deep air, and 
every way it opened up but only to show itself. The solid 
whiteness had usurped the air. There was no center, no four 
points of the compass. Within the circle the circle had come 
to an end. 

But I knew there was a gate and, feeling now myself some 
panic, I began to run, trusting to blind chance. I quickly 
enough came up against the wall, but it was the unbroken 
wall I touched. Time and again I retraced my steps, ap- 
proached it by the next path, but always the gate eluded me. 
And everywhere the trodden snow and everywhere the 
motionless depth of the fog, the cold dull white cloud of it, 
and beyond it the hard substance of the wall, surrounding us, 
confining us, the little gap closed up. Then at one certain 
moment I discovered my center of being had become the 
nameless dread which lurks in dreams, is known but may not 
be named. 

In this white blindness I reached to my forehead and 
brushed away the clammy sweat. Should I call out to Ellen 
and terrify her? Not yet certainly. Instead, slowly I trod the 
crystal floor, looking down, fearing now the effluvium which 
had replaced the air and which at first had seemed so beauti- 

So it happened that in this latter stage of my bewilderment 
the fog took from me the sense of time. 

But remembering the woodsman's trick, I began myself to 
move in a circle, carefully widening it. This was a last resort. 
It might bring me back to Ellen. There was no other way 
now. Together again we could wait until Johnny came to feed 
the stock. If I shouted, he might hear me. But when would 
that be? Would the dark blot out this whiteness? Would 
Johnny feed early and slip back to his house before I could 

326 : a name for evil 

call? Once together again, I would explain to Ellen, and like 
a foghorn I would call out at intervals. 

Treading the circle I had made, something, some intuition, 
made me lift my eyes from my tracks. There she was, barely 
visible in the opaque light, directly in front of me. She had 
not heard me come up. She stood with her head slightly bent, 
in the frozen tension of one who looks down into an abyss. 
Her hands were clasped over her bosom. I felt a boundless 
relief, but as I looked more sharply I saw that she was listen- 
ing to no spoken words, but to some secret communication 
she was well practiced in deciphering. The whole appalling 
truth was before me. 

"Ellen!" I screamed. 

My anguish and the fixity of my purpose to save her gave 
to my cry its unearthly quality. She bounded forward, 
whirled around and, looking blindly at me, made the sound 
of a wounded beast. And then she saw me. For one instant 
she turned upon me a wild, transforming stare, when she 
began to back slowly away, moaning, "No, no, no," over and 
over again. 

"Stop! It's me," I called out. 

But she did not stop. It was then I saw toward what she 
was moving. A few steps away, on the platform of the spring- 
house stood my enemy, waiting. There was no need to look 
but in my instantaneous glance I saw that he was dressed as a 
bridegroom. And I saw his face, the hateful features I had 
come to know as well as my own, triumph and desire shining 
out of the hollow eyes. And then the two long arms reached 

"You shall not!" I shouted and dashed forward. 

But I was a fraction of a moment too late. With a lightness 
she could not have managed alone Ellen leaped upon the plat- 

a name for evil : 327 

form where she was awaited. I heard a crackling of timbers, a 
long crash, and there before my eyes she and Major Brent 
disappeared into the depths below. 

I tore open the old trap door, half ran, half slid down the 
rotten steps. I stood in the inner darkness of the pit, sinking 
up to my ankles in the oozing muck which for years had 
stopped up the spring's mouth. From above, where the 
floor had broken through, a dull light penetrated into the 
gloom — enough for me to make out the heap lying in front 
of me. With a cry of hope I knelt, I gathered her into my 
arms. Oh, with what passion I held her! Carefully now I 
whispered her name. She was slow to answer. Hoarsely I 
shouted it, but the round walls of the slimy pit, not she, gave 
back the lifeless word. Desperately my eyes reached for the 
light to make it show me her face. The light hovered, like a 
strain of breath, below the break in the floor. I saw it cast no 
reflection, but I saw this without surprise. Already I knew 
what it was I held in my arms, and I knew that at last Major 
Brent had triumphed and I was alone. 


Andrew Lytle was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 
1902; he attended the Sewanee Military Academy. Afterwards 
he studied for a year in France and then graduated from 
Vanderbilt in 1925. After managing a cotton farm for his 
father, he spent two years under George Pierce Baker in the 
Yale School of Drama; supported himself in New York act- 
ing, as he began the research on his first book, a Civil War 
biography, Bedford Forrest and His Critter Company. 

Returning to Tennessee, he renewed his fellowship with 
the writers about Vanderbilt who at the moment were taking 
a fresh look as their common historic inheritance. He con- 
tributed to their agrarian symposium, /'// Take My Stand. 
He began writing fiction and found this, rather than the 
theater, to be his proper art form. His other novels are The 
Long Night (1936); At the Moon's Inn (1941) ; and The 
Velvet Horn (1957). 

He has taught at Southwestern College, at the University 
of the South, where for a year he edited the oldest American 
literary quarterly, The Sewanee Review, and at the University 
of Iowa. Since 1948 he has been lecturer in Creative Writing 
at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He has received 
several literary awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the 
Kenyon Fellowship for fiction. 

He is married and has three daughters. 



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